By Susannah Whitman
An Other Theater Company’s production of A Doll’s House can best be summarized in the words of one of the actors on social media: “Christmas sweaters! Macaroons! Snowmen! The toxicity of the patriarchy in our modern, local society!”
The venue may seem unusual, but the production is outstanding. Nestled in between a used bookstore and a Payless Shoe Source inside the Provo Towne Centre Mall, you’d never know that An Other Theater Company’s intimate venue used to be a Radio Shack. The interior has been completely transformed into a black box space, perfect for the kind of intimate and thought-provoking scripts that An Other Theatre Company has selected for its inaugural season.
Originally written in 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House tells the story of Nora (Hailey Nebeker) and Torvald Helmer (Carter Walker), a young couple living in domestic bliss (and with considerable means) after a hard financial year. But Nora carries a secret, and as the play progresses, this secret begins to unravel everything holding the Helmer family together. It strains all of Nora’s relationships to the breaking point until the play’s powerful conclusion. No spoilers, but when the show first opened in the late 1800s, audiences were so distressed by the ending that Ibsen was forced to re-write it. (Today, A Doll’s House is always performed as Ibsen originally intended.)
An Other Theater Company’s production lifts Ibsen’s story not only into modern day, but into a home that Utah audiences will likely find deeply familiar. The Proclamation on the Family adorns the Helmer family living room wall, between a picture of an LDS temple, and a wooden plaque with Gordon B. Hinckley’s “Six B’s.” Scripture cases sit by the door, and a book entitled A Utah Mama’s Handbook sits on the coffee table. It’s Christmas in a typical Mormon family home. The show opens with Nora scrolling through Instagram, and gathering likes and comments about her “flawless” life.
Under the direction of Wade Robert Johnson, the production has found nuance and power in a script that certainly doesn’t feel 138 years old. Here’s where I’ll be honest: I’ve read A Doll’s House dozens of times. I’ve seen it performed, in whole and in part, dozens of times. I’ve studied it in both English and drama classes. But An Other Theater Company’s production made me realize things about the script that I had never seen before.
I saw how Nora’s relationship with Dr. Rank (Kacey Spadafora) is a foil to her relationship with her husband, Torvald. I saw how Mrs. Linde’s (Laura Chapman) desire for a relationship comes from a place of love, as opposed to a place of duty. I saw how deeply “what people will think” influences the Helmer family. I saw, more clearly than ever, how A Doll’s House is the story of a marriage, and how any imbalance of power wreaks havoc on a relationship.
We’ve come a long way from the days when women couldn’t own property or open a line of credit in their own names. But the themes of A Doll’s House are still fiercely, painfully relevant, especially in our small community. In a world where women don’t have true power, they must sometimes use sexuality (or virtue) as their currency. In some ways, we still live in a world where women must always ask the men in their lives for the things they want and need, and where flirtation is the most effective way to obtain them.
But that’s not the only relevant theme in Ibsen’s script. We still judge a man for the choices of his past, and hold him accountable for years afterwards, whether he has changed or not. We still live in a world where we equate outward appearances with righteousness. There is still tremendous pressure on men to make money, and for women to be flawless mothers. Ibsen’s work continues to move audiences a century after it was written because we haven’t finished solving the societal problems he observed.
This is a small, DIY production—the director also designed the sound; one person did costumes, hair, and makeup; and set design was a collaborative effort. But don’t let this discourage you from attending the show—what the company lacks in budget, they make up for in talent. An Other Theater Company is producing important shows—the kind of deep, lasting theater that gets into your bones and reminds you why you love this art form.
As Nora, Nebeker finds an excellent balance between flighty and serious. We as the audience actually see several Noras—she is a slightly different person with her husband, with her friends, with her housekeeper. Nora is an extraordinarily 3-dimensional character, with both flaws and strengths, and she comes to life in Nebeker’s capable hands. Walker plays Torvald with perfection. His misogyny is not antagonistic, but rather the kind of light-hearted, condescending dismissal that’s all the more insidious for its smiling face. Walker was able to create a Torvald who is likeable most of the time…a little naïve, willfully innocent, but ultimately deeply flawed.
As the dynamic and good-hearted Mrs. Linde, Chapman fairly shines; Chapman has moments of humor, where her friendship with Nora feels natural and fun. But she also has deep moments of sincerity, where her painful past—and her desire for a meaningful future—is made clear. Through all of that vulnerability, we are able to see a woman of strength. Trevor Newsome plays the troubled Krogstad, a man barely holding on to the status quo, and fighting desperately to maintain it. Newsome was moving in his portrayal, and his moments of anger came from a place of sincere hurt. He is a deeply sympathetic character, and it makes his moments of joy and relief all the more powerful.
Finally, two incredible performances come from Spadafora as Dr. Rank, and Angela Dell as the housekeeper Helen. Dell’s barely concealed irritation with Nora is both humorous and sympathetic. Dell’s subtle performance is perfect, and the few small glimpses we get into her deeper character are beautiful. Spadafora’s great strength as an actor comes from his honesty. He sits comfortably in the role of the cynical and smart Dr. Rank, but his moments of vulnerability are so deeply moving that they brought tears to my eyes more than once.
All in all, An Other Theater’s A Doll’s House is powerful and thought-provoking and deeply relevant. And it’s exciting to be there as a company is just starting out—I feel a little like I’m part of this club of cool kids who are on the inside as something beautiful is beginning. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for strong scripts brought to life by smart and talented people. A Doll’s House at An Other Theater Company certainly hits the spot.
An Other Theater Company presents A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
An Other Theater Company, Provo Towne Centre Mall, 1200 Towne Centre Blvd, Provo, UT, 84601 (2nd floor, near Dillard’s)
Fridays and Saturdays, November 17-December 16 7:30 PM, Matinees December 9, 16 2:00 PM
Tickets: $15 general admission, $13 students/seniors ($10 for opening weekend) May be purchased online or at the door. Online ticketing closes 1 hour prior to curtain
An Other Theater Company’s Facebook Page
A Doll’s House Facebook Event