A symbolic execution occurred this month onstage at the Tacoma Little Theatre. The sacred role of being a women — as dictated by 19th century social norms — died as the lights dimmed and the upstairs house party ceased to a halt. The crowd fell silent as main character Nora’s bellowing voice grew deep and full of distaste in preparation for her groundbreaking monologue.
Perhaps the most controversial and shocking piece of dramatic literature of its time period, “A Doll’s House” provides a peek into the societal structure of the 19th century. The play begins by painting a portrait of Nora, a pure and cheerful woman who cares for her family and maintains the characteristics of a virtuous woman. However, Nora holds within her a secret that could cause her surface level perfect life to come crashing down. Written by Henrick Ibsen in the 1870’s, “A Doll’s House” critiques the patriarchal social system of Europe during the time period that depicts the lack of agency women had. As the story unfolds, we watch as Nora navigates through her life in a world where acting without male permission is the ultimate sin — thus parts from her role as a doting mother and wife.
Director Marilyn Bennett explained the character of Nora as she dissected the storyline for the audience. “Her sweet, deferential, childlike persona was born of a doting, but ultimately withholding father; she then married and transferred her skills at delighting her Papa to wooing her husband and entertaining both him and their children,” Bennett said. Annie Katica Green, the actress tasked with portraying this complex persona, pushes the audience to adore Nora and see her in a multidimensional way. As Nora’s character development progresses, the audience can’t help but root for her as she exercises her rights as a human being.
As a set, “A Doll’s House” is beautifully executed. Taken in by about 10 feet on either side, Tacoma Little Theatre’s stage appeared to be a doll house — complete with annular walls, luxurious furniture, and lovely decor — truly creating the perfect setting to showcase Nora’s doll-like existence. The costumes are modest in nature, but speak perfectly to 19th century Europe, allowing the audience to peer into the Norwegian customs and culture of 1885.
The performance was so captivating because it captured an experience many young women may face in today’s society — the development of oneself in a male dominated world. It is a transformation from being what societal expectations of a “good” woman are to discovering oneself and becoming a woman with agency over her life. Although “A Doll’s House” is written by a male playwright, it perpetuated feminist social commentary and disputed patriarchal expectations. Ibsen noted “A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.”
“A Doll’s House” is a play that tells a story that is still relevant in contemporary times — one where women have less agency over their existence and must navigate their lives under the cloak of patriarchy. Bennett’s rendition of the play celebrates such a commemorative moment in theatre history and brilliantly showcases the story of Nora. Although not as controversial of a performance as it was when it first debuted, the show still challenges gender norms and asks the audience at what point is enough, enough?