A Doll’s House

Rated 4.0

Even though they debuted as a couple more than 125 years ago, Nora and Torvald Helmer would have felt right at home on Wisteria Lane. This just-promoted banker and his adorable, adoring wife are the picture of suburban contentment, if there had been suburbs when Henrik Ibsen created this “keeping up appearances” couple for his 1879 play A Doll’s House.And, just like those housewives on the hit television show, behind Nora’s perfect facade is a desperate housewife embroiled in secrets, lies, manipulations, treachery and blackmail. Although A Doll’s House is considered a feminist play because of Nora’s eventual transformation and her parting “got to go find myself” speech, the play is actually a glimpse behind the veneer of a society-approved marriage.

What director Ed Claudio wisely does in his Actor’s Theatre production is to humanize the Torvald character, making the husband less brutish and more, well, desperate himself. And Nora’s layers are exposed slowly, painfully and realistically, so the quick disintegration of the marriage is more sad than empowering.

The first 15 minutes of the play are painful with the stilted dialogue and stereotypical characters. Nora comes across as the brainless shopping diva, with self-righteous Torvald patronizingly calling her “My Little Nora, My Little Squirrel.” But in the best vein of Desperate Housewives, things aren’t what they seem.

Central to the success of A Doll’s House is the portrayal of Nora, not an easy character to make deep, sympathetic and believable, but Michelle Noufer does a commendable job. She makes us care about, and even admire, this complex woman. Martin Lain as Torvald gives depth to a character commonly portrayed as a lout. Other cast members give admirable portrayals of sundry supporting characters, including a rich doctor, a conniving co-worker and an interfering friend—a lineup that sounds just like neighbors found on Wisteria Lane.