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Jane Enkin's Review of MTC's 'A Doll's House' running until Feb 16

A Doll's House is part of Ibsenfest, the 2019 master playwright festival, which runs in multiple venues through February 17.

by Jane Enkin Feb 3, 2019

The MTC production of A Doll's House, expertly directed by Rona Waddington, provides a moving, gripping experience.  Whether you attend without knowing the outline of the story, or you know this classic play well, you will be rewarded by the star performance of Shannon Tyler as Nora along with her accomplished cast mates.


Nora is a frenetically happy housewife, dancing round the room, playing hide and seek with her children, and blithely spending on household expenses. Her husband Torvald calls her his skylark, his little squirrel, and she responds with whimsy in a high chirping voice.


That sweet voice drops an octave when Nora confronts the costs of maintaining her husband's illusions and his masculine pride. She has a gentle friendship with Dr. Rank, who visits the couple daily, and she lets down her guard a bit.  She is more frank with her school friend Kristine, who re-enters Nora's life in a way that allows, as is common in early 20th century works of realism, a convenient excuse for a detailed exposition as the two women catch up on all that has happened in the ten years since they last saw one another.


Nora's supposedly spendthrift approach to household expenses, it turns out, is a cover for a debt she insists on keeping secret from her husband. She charms pocket money from him and tucks most of the cash away to pay off the loan. The debt, the loss of her parents when she was young, and the constant effort to shape herself to please her husband take a toll on her, even before the events of the play begin to increase the pressures on Nora. The plot continues with a slow striptease of revelations that upend lives.


In the midst of what was retroactively named the first wave of feminism Henrik Ibsen looked at the life of one middle class woman.  The plot and language of A Doll's House echo uncannily the second wave feminism of the 1970s, as well as the concept of  roles and games people play made popular in the 50s and 60s.  Ibsen's insights remained to be “discovered” many years after the play's 1879 premiere. And the pitfalls of keeping up appearances both in wider society and within the “happy home” remain relevant today.


Henrik Ibsen is considered one of the founders of the Modernist theatre movement, with an emphasis on social issues. The language of A Doll's House is realistic, but heavily loaded with symbolism.  A striking example comes when Torvald announces happily, “An exit must be effective.” The play is, in fact, filled with dramatic, significant exits.


Waddington has chosen a heightened, expressive approach to the play.  In her scenes with others, Nora is perhaps simply effusive, but in moments alone on stage, her inner thoughts are presented in a deeply dramatic way. There is also an especially moving scene when Kristine and Nora are speaking, but widely separated on stage, Nora looking to the audience, and Kristine calmly looking at the doorway to the street, unable to understand Nora's desperation.


Those scenes of Nora's inner experience are vividly emphasized by the brilliant screen projections of lighting and video designer Hugh Conacher. The audience enters to an image of gentle snow, falling like blossoms in bare branches. Soon the lights and video are expressing, in abstract images, Nora's escalating anxiety.


The performances are uniformly fine, each character a fascinating creation. Shannon Tyler carries the play, with her tender performance of great passion.  She expresses physically every nuance of Nora's thoughts and feelings.


Cory Wojcik is intense and powerful as Krogstad.  He lets us perceive this menacing character first as a hard-hearted, manipulative man, then skillfully reveals his pained, broken, yet hopeful nature.


Kevin Klassen's strong performance, loving and vulnerable, brings out the naiveté of Torvald, kept in a protective bubble by the people around him, including the wife whom everyone considers a child.


As Kristine, Toni Reimer's upright bearing and stern, often sad expression help her create a complex character.


Eric Blais gives a sweet, gentle performance, subtly weaving in the bitterness Ibsen has him communicate in hints during light-hearted conversation.


Jennifer Lyon as the servant Anne-Marie is mostly relegated to the background of the family's life, but she plays with great warmth and sorrow her key scene with Nora late in the play. 


Young Kaloyana and Gavrail Momtchilov are Nora's children on stage, at first shrieking with enthusiasm, and then movingly solemn.


This production is highly recommended, both as a emotional theatre experience and a fascinating document of social history.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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