Playing house

A Doll’s House

Holly Natwora’s Nora gets “moral guidance” from Ryan Madison’s Dr. Rank in <span style="">A Doll’s House.</span>

Holly Natwora’s Nora gets “moral guidance” from Ryan Madison’s Dr. Rank in A Doll’s House.

Photo By David Robert

Reno Little Theater’s production of A Doll’s House looks like it will be a polished, if conventional, rendering of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play.

A Doll’s House was written in 1879 as a commentary on human rights and, scandalously for the time, women’s rights. The first act consists almost entirely of banter between the protagonist, Nora (portrayed by Holly Natwora), and her husband, Torvald (Jorge Hoyos).

To the modern audience, Act One may seem nauseatingly paternalistic. Torvald continually calls his wife demeaning names, like “little wastrel,” “songbird” and “squirrel.” In contrast, Nora is childish, monumentally self-centered and utterly dependent on Torvald.

The play’s conflict comes when Krogstad, played by Andrew Mowers, blackmails Nora. Thus, through a series of power plays with Krogstad, Nora begins her transformation from a squirrel into a free woman.

Based on a rehearsal, Natwora’s Nora is very good. She strikes the audience as a ditzy character initially, but Natwora masterfully blends in the intelligence and loyalty that define Nora. Anyone who saw Natwora in the Brüka production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will expect no less. Natwora says she doesn’t see reason to stray too far from the original script and intent.

“I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on how to make a play different, when they should be focusing on the script,” she says.

One temptation is to portray Torvald as a sexist monster. Given the dialogue, this is exceptionally difficult to resist. Hoyos plays a convincing Torvald, and he tries hard to show Torvald’s redeeming qualities. “I try to make it more intimate,” he says. “More playful.” But his attempts to humanize Torvald, at least in the first two acts, are the least convincing.

Another temptation, which thankfully is not sated in this production, is to play Krogstad as a humorless Dr. Evil. Mowers instead gives Krogstad the dimensions he deserves—bitterness and mercy, pragmatism and ruthlessness.

Mowers’ voice for Krogstad is strikingly reminiscent of Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek. However, once past the voice, Mowers’ Krogstad works. The noble, manly voice even serves to humanize the villain of Ibsen’s story.

While, at first, he wasn’t wild about A Doll’s House, Mowers has embraced his role.

“I used to hate this play,” he says. “But watching it made so much more sense. … I never dreamed of being involved, and now I’m really proud.”

Camille Abelow plays a convincingly hollow Kristine and foils the bubbling Nora with alacrity.

And Ryan Madison, though curiously spry for playing a character dying of a degenerative spine condition, is both slimy and smooth as Ibsen’s corrupt moral guide, Dr. Rank.

While the play doesn’t try to do anything really crazy, there are a few adaptations, according to director Doug A. Mishler. They will “black box” the play by having the audience on all sides of the stage. The effect is to have the actors up close and even among the audience members. Mishler also says he wants to emphasize rounded characters that seem real.

“I don’t want this to be just a feminist play because it’s so much more,” he says.

A Doll’s House is a masterpiece. It’s every bit as relevant today as it was in 1879. Thankfully, this cast and director look like they are going to do justice to its complexity.