A Doll’s House
What happens when a young trophy wife matures and realizes shopping, adoring her husband and looking good just aren’t enough? Chances are, her frustrations will begin to show, creating cracks in her carefully constructed life.
And that’s just what happens to Nora, the complex, compelling central character in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. What’s remarkable about Ibsen’s modern look at women’s plight in society is that it was written in 1879 and caused quite a stir when presented to the staid Victorian audiences of its time.
Not only is Nora one of the most enigmatic characters in theater, but she’s also one of the most challenging to portray as an actress, with an intense dramatic arc that stretches from silly to savvy, from innocent acceptance to bold questioning and from girl to woman. Our belief in her growth is key to the success of any production of A Doll’s House, and to Chautauqua Playhouse’s credit, it has found an actress who’s up to the challenge.
Chandra Ashton, a relatively new actress to the local scene, gives an impressive performance as Nora. She presents a disarming blend of innocence and wily wit, making us frustrated at her childish behavior before it dawns on us that there’s much more going on beneath the blonde’s curls. She draws us into this story of secrets, lies, blackmail and social shams.
Nora is the perfect wife to a rather prim, pompous and patronizing Torvald (Shane Galloway), who loves his childlike wife and is bemused by her apparent airhead ways. But, unbeknownst to Torvald, Nora secretly has saved his ass, but she doesn’t want him to know because it will upset the marital balance. Besides, what she’s done may be in a moral gray zone.
She’s abetted by her world-weary widow friend Christine (Tara Reynolds), blackmailed by her accomplice Nils (Thomas Bach) and lusted after by the family doctor (Chris Lamb).
The supporting cast also gives strong performances under the direction of Diane Bartlett, though Galloway needs to tone down his affectedness a bit. Special kudos to costume designer Gail Russell, who has fashioned gorgeous period dress in beautiful colors and fabrics, and to set designer Gill Rogers for his handsome replication of a Victorian parlor.