Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote "A Doll House" in the 1870s, but actor Richard Heller believes it is just as relevant today as when it was first penned.
"There is nothing in this play that is not happening in every household and relationship," he says. "It's about the male and female dynamic, love and the shattering of a family. Nothing is more timeless than love."
In Theatre Convivio's production of the classic play, Heller plays Torvald Helmer — a banker who treats his wife like an irresponsible child. He berates her for overspending on household expenses, but doesn't realize she is secretly paying back money she borrowed to help him recover his health during an illness. Because she illegally forged her father's signature to get the money, she cannot reveal she took out the loan.
The show will preview at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, at Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Preview tickets are $5. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with matinees at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, March 10-26. Tickets are $12.50; $10 for seniors and students. Tickets are available at www.theatreconvivio.com, at Music Coop, 268 E. Main St., or Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St., in Ashland. Remaining tickets will be available at the door. Email email@example.com for information.
Christina "Saia" Blakeslee takes on the role of Nora Helmer, Torvald Helmer's wife.
Nora Helmer pretends to be a happy, doting and irresponsible wife. Her husband constantly calls her disparaging names, such as "little featherhead."
Early in the play he chastises her, saying, "You always find some new way of wheedling money out of me, and, as soon as you have got it, it seems to melt in your hands. You never know where it has gone."
Blakeslee said both women and men will identify with Nora Helmer, who cannot truly be herself with her husband.
"This play is so deeply about relationships," she says. "There have always been roles that we play. It's so easy to get caught up in a role and try to appease someone. You get caught up in playing different roles and putting on different faces for your partner."
Because of its portrayal of marriage and its ending — which went against societal norms — Ibsen's play created controversy when it premiered in 1879 in Denmark. He based the story on the experience of his real-life friend, Laura Kieler, who forged a check in order to get money to treat her husband's tuberculosis. When her husband discovered the forgery, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum.
Ibsen created a different fate for his fictional character Nora, one in which she must find inner strength and face an uncertain future.
The play, which Theatre Convivio is staging during Women's History Month, is considered an early feminist work.
"While Ibsen was delighted that his play was used in support of the awakening feminist movement in Norway, he was surprised it was a vehicle for that," Heller says. "He called it a modern tragedy. He was a very cosmopolitan individual and against small-mindedness. I've thought a lot about this man and his words. This was a fellow who wrote this."
Brady Rubin, who directs the play, says "A Doll House" ultimately is about how no one — whether male or female — can be an authentic individual and have authentic relationships without honesty. She says Nora Helmer must always act charming toward her husband to get extra money from him, even as she grows increasingly desperate that her past forgery will be exposed.
"I've directed this play before, and it always speaks to me," Rubin says. "You can't build anything on a foundation of lies. When a lie is exposed, you realize the whole foundation of what you've built is disintegrating. That's the exciting thing about 'A Doll House' and what keeps it relevant today. I can't work on it without being moved."