ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For very good reason, Henrik Ibsen is called the father of modern drama. He might also be called a father of the modern world. When Nora in “A Doll’s House” slams the door – literally and figuratively – on her life as wife and mother, it was said to reverberate through all of Europe. To walk out on an abusive husband was one thing, but to leave a man who was, on the surface at least, a loving and devoted husband was simply unheard-of. And to leave her children as well!
We can well believe contemporary accounts that claim there were riots in the streets after the inaugural production in Copenhagen in 1879.
Director David Richard Jones has assembled a first-rate cast and design team to bring this most famous of powerful dramas to vivid life at the Vortex Theatre. (What is more, it is playing in repertory with Lucas Hnath’s 2017 imagined sequel, “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”)
After two decades writing epic verse dramas on historical and mythological topics, Ibsen reinvented himself – and in the process invented modern drama – when he began crafting highly intricate domestic dramas in prosaic language on taboo subjects. “A Doll’s House” was his first masterpiece in the new genre, to be followed by quite a few more before he changed style again to end his career writing symbolic plays that only superficially resembled the domestic dramas that preceded them.
“A Doll’s House” masterfully exhibits the formula Ibsen used for these middle plays, the ones he is most remembered for today. After the necessary exposition in Act 1, the audience becomes aware of actions and behaviors from the past that are coming home to roost in the brief time span of the play. Complications follow exposition, and intensity builds as we move toward the climax of the play. In this case, we learn of a crime that Nora committed years ago in an effort to save her husband’s life and spare her dying father grief. The play ends with an intense (and very famous) discussion on a most serious topic, Nora’s dwarfed development as a human being and the pressing need she has to do something about it.
This is an impeccable production, with gorgeous set design by Ryan Jason Cook and beautiful costumes by Carolyn Hogan. Abby Van Gerpen is stunning as Nora, perfectly calibrating the slow disintegration of her psyche before she gains control and saves herself. Brennan Foster is excellent as the affectionate husband who values his pretty wife as his carnal possession and not as his equal, a complicated human being with a mind of her own.
Newcomer Ryan Dobbs is outstanding as Krogstad, as is Emily Carvey as Christine, the woman who makes a man of him again. Frederick Ponzlov oozes the rank mortality of Dr. Rank, and the actors playing the maid and the children do yeoman’s work as well. Be sure to see this classic play; and although I have not seen the sequel yet, the opportunity to see both plays in repertory is a rare opportunity and not to be missed.
“A Doll’s House” plays in repertory with “A Doll’s House, Part 2” until Nov. 17 at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE. Go to vortexabq.org or call 247-8600 for reservations.