Review: PCS revives Ibsen’s ‘Doll’s House’

By Margie Royal

Staging great classics is tricky business. Plays considered masterpieces very much reflect the age and time they were written in, and address the values of the presiding culture. Of course, a masterpiece will also reveal enduring truths about relationships and human nature. The trick is to find a way to direct a classic so that it becomes riveting and relevant to modern audiences.

Anna-Helene (LeAnne Mangano) Kristina ( Osi Scott) and Nora (Lauren Kerstetter) in “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen.

When Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House” premiered, it was considered shocking. It examined the marriage of Torvald and his wife, Nora, with a frankness that had never been seen before. Nora was Torvald’s plaything, his “doll” — expected only to please him and do nothing that would upset his comfortable routine. Nora’s journey to throw off that conditioning imposed on her by both her father and husband – and society, was nothing that audiences in 1879 had ever seen on stage before. Ibsen is credited with being the father of realism, and opened the door to dramas that explored darker truths about society and the individual. His subtle use of symbolism was also groundbreaking.

“A Doll’s House” looks at the limited economic options women have in a male-dominated society, and also at how a parent’s choices affect their children. It’s a play filled with undercurrents, and introduces characters who are not what they seem to be on the surface, and who each have their masks stripped off by the end of the play.

Director Deborah Braak has made some nice choices in her non-traditional casting of the play, and by moving the play to the 1960s. Simon Stephen’s translation repeatedly underscores the play’s central doll house symbol to make sure no one misses it. This translation also turns Nora’s declaration of independence into a long, drawn-out, melodramatic, and over-explained finale.

Lauren Kerstetter is a childlike Nora, overly-anxious to always please husband Torvald. Steve Connor is an indulgent Torvald, happy with his silly, plaything wife. Michael Steven Schultz plays the kindly Dr. Rank. Sara Orsi Scott creates a strong contrast to Nora by playing the character of Kristine with plain-spoken frankness. Ron Lee Jones turns in a fine performance as the menacing Krogstad, who has an unexpected secret of his own. LeeAnne Mangano has the cameo role of Anna-Helene.

George Mulford’s doll house set is nicely done, and I loved the tiny doll house and toys shown in the attic rafters. Davida Weiler-Stone’s nursery tune music heard between the scene changes is nicely done, and Ryan Stone’s lighting design is subtle and effective. Suzette Krausen’s 1960s costumes are well-chosen.

Performances continue through Saturday, Feb. 25. Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.  Audiences can meet the artists in a talkback discussion after the Feb. 19 performance. Buy tickets either online at www.pcstheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or at the door. For more information about PCS – including upcoming events, shows, ticketing and directions, visit www.pcstheater.org.