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Arts & Culture

Theater Students Open New Doors to Ibsen’s ‘Doll House’

All-Women Cast Takes Unconventional Approach to Classic Play on Gender Roles

By Kate Spanos Ph.D. ’16

Torvald Helmer (Beth Rendely ’21) gives money to his wife, Nora (Des’ree Brown ’20)

Photos by David Andrews

Torvald Helmer (Beth Rendely ’21) gives money to his wife, Nora (Des’ree Brown ’20), in a dress rehearsal of the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ performance of “A Doll House.” Playing a man, Rendely said, "allows us to examine the masks we wear and the games we play in our relationships. In this play, women put on a mask to play a man and say, ‘This is what it looks like from our point of view.’”

When Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” premiered in Copenhagen in 1879, the protagonist Nora’s shocking exit from her home and domestic life was known as “the door slam heard round the world.” The play became a symbol of the emerging feminist movement in Europe at the time. 

Over 140 years later, the story of the disillusioned wife and mother still reverberates amid questions about traditional roles assigned to men and women.

The School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies this week continues performances of “A Doll House,” an alternative translation of the title of Ibsen’s classic play that foregrounds the “dollhouse” that has become Nora’s marriage to her husband, Torvald.

All characters are portrayed as doll-like and unable to break out of typical societal roles. The production features a cast of six women, a directorial choice that gives audience members the opportunity to reflect on gender expectations.

“I am so proud of the fierce group of women who took on this challenge,” said director Kathryn Chase Bryer. “They have lifted their voices to the occasion and tell the story with 100% commitment.”

Scenic design by Rochelle Mac (M.F.A. design ’21), costume design by Yi Lin Zhao (M.F.A. design ’22) and lighting design by Jacob Hughes (M.F.A. design ’21), choreography by Amber Daniels (M.F.A. Dance ’22), dramaturgy by Kelley Holley (Ph.D. candidate).

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