A Doll House: Feminist Theater With Attitude

Famous for the controversy surrounding the “door slam heard ’round the world,” as one colleague of mine cleverly put it, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House is often interpreted as one of the first works of feminist drama. 

The play follows the story of Nora Helmer, a young Norwegian woman who finds herself trapped in a marriage in which she is not fulfilled and, as she realizes, not fully appreciated as a human being. (It is not surprising, then, that the role of Nora, played in this production by Sonia Marton PO ’16, is considered one of the greatest female parts in the theater and is coveted by actresses even today.) 

Highly controversial in the late 19th century when it was first produced, the play addresses how women in this time period were regarded as mere possessions, their desires and emotions deemed utterly trivial; it shed light on the commonplace dehumanization women were subjected to and the widespread oppression that took place, all in the name of protection and reverence. 

In recent years, as the shock of Nora’s rejection of traditional motherhood and wifedom has worn off, some have tried to shake the traditional purely feminist interpretation in favor of one that places A Doll House more in the category of a family drama. As opposed to being a caricature-esque villain and victim, the Helmers are products of their society who are forced to face the reality of a sham of their crumbling marriage.

Director Leonard Pronko, while maintaining the feminist sympathies of the play, seems to embrace this second interpretation as well. 

“This is play about change, about people changing,” Pronko said in the play’s video teaser. “It’s about learning to wake up and, when you wake up, to make difficult decisions.”

Ultimately, on the basis of its historical and literary value alone, this show is worth the $5 ticket.

That said, I was not expecting much entertainment from the production, because 19th-century dramas around here don’t always keep you on the edge of your seat—but I was pleasantly surprised. As always, the show looks dazzling: stepping into the theater is like crossing the threshold into an actual 1890s home in Norway. The beautiful costumes alone were enough to keep my attention through all three acts.

At times almost farcical, the cast kept the energy of Wednesday night’s audience high with lots of laughs and catty retorts to rival those of any of the sets of Real Housewives. One could say that this energy came at the expense of what could have been moving moments, but not at the expense of entertainment.

A Doll House will be performed tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., and tomorrow and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for the Claremont community and $10 for the general public. and they can be purchased at Seaver Theatre’s box office. For more information, call (909) 607-4375 or e-mail seaverboxoffice@pomona.edu.

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