September 30, 2019 - Iowa Stage Theatre Company
Iowa Stage’s deft touch to ‘A Doll’s House’ is radiant
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
“The slamming door heard ‘round the world.” For well over a century, that’s how Henrik Ibsen’s iconic A Doll’s House as has been referred. It has not appeared on a regional stage, other than perhaps a college production, for a very long time. Perhaps it’s the challenge of delivering it with a relevant, compelling energy. Iowa Stage Theatre Company has given this classic script its due, and audiences will savor the opportunity to experience a masterfully presented production of Ibsen’s groundbreaking play.
Iowa Stage returned to its historic roots, presenting their 2019-2020 Season in the Stoner Theater tucked inside the Civic Center complex. This seems to be a winning move, as this production was a powerful, moving experience.
Ibsen uses this play to convey a wife’s constricted role in the household, a household where the husband was the dominant figure and the wife often relegated to an inferior role, often objectified. A Doll’s House proved to create a firestorm of controversy by having the wife defy the cultural norm and strike out on her own at the end of the play. The three-act journey to arrive at the momentous theatrical ending is rife with a compelling mix of motivations, reactions and manipulations.
Upon entering the Stoner Studio space, it has been transformed into design magic. If first impressions are telling, this truly was an impressive encounter. Master designer Jay Jagim instills a “mini-Guthrie” feel to this space, giving waiting audiences a wonderful sense of anticipation for the show to come. The subtle wash of blues enveloping the performance area laps out to the feet of the audience, while sweeping up the upstage backdrop. The staging area is mirrored above, giving this scenic concept a complete look never before achieved in this space.
Jagim’s pre-show conditioning allows the audience to easily slip into the action of this three-act gem. Director Jennifer Ross Nostrala beguilingly instills Ibsen’s work with 21st century relevance through her very talented cast. The choreographed nuancing of her stage movement gave the show a special ebb-and-flow, painting the set with captivating strokes enhanced by each character’s complete characterizations.
Tiffany Flory’s Nora Helmer anchors this story, shifting her womanly role with each encounter. Flory lightly glides from coquettish to angered to business, portending her growing internal conflict that culminates at the end of the play. Torvald Helmer, thanks to Benjamin Sheridan’s penchant for capturing this character, is steeped in the late-19th century culture which dominates the atmosphere of the story. Shawn Wilson shines, the polar-opposite of his dark cloaked, über-somber Dr. Rank, a melancholy pessimist who somehow also is appealing. Christine Linden, played with a special inner-strength and poise by Emily Davis, is the first domino in a chain of events when she re-enters Nora’s life. Michael Tallman gives his Nils Krogstad a layered development. Laura Jordan (as Anne Marie) and Oliver James Kohl (as Ellen) enhance the story by deftly executing their duties as servants in the Helmer’s household. Nora’s children, Ivar and Emmy, are played by Adler and Amelia Sheridan.
Where Iowa Stage excels is in its attention to details. Their established tradition of bringing stellar talent together with the best production talent gives audiences a confidence when booking their tickets. A Doll’s House brings solid key production elements into play: Chris Williams and Josh Jepson (sound design), Jim Trenberth (lighting design), Susanna Douthit (costume design). Each is a Cloris Award winner and their resultant work with Nostrala’s production vision proves that professional-caliber theater is produced in Central Iowa. This show is being presented in repertory with Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2. Hnath resumes Nora’s story fifteen years after her departure. Iowa Stage is only the second company in America to do this, and the combined experience will be memorable.
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