Author: Jill Kimball

CU Theatre stages Ibsen’s timeless ‘A Doll House’

Roe Green Visiting Artist Ina Marlowe directs the Victorian-era classic.

The University of Colorado’s theatre season continues with “A Doll House” by Henrik Ibsen, one of the 19th century’s most iconic plays. CU’s wintry, thought-provoking production, directed by Roe Green Visiting Artist Ina Marlowe, runs Nov. 3-12 in the University Theatre.

“A Doll House,” a Victorian-era story about a woman, Nora, who breaks free from her suffocating marriage to Torvald, is one of the most read plays in the U.S., thanks to its ubiquity in high school and college English classes. There’s a lot to dissect, from the significance of Torvald’s condescending pet names for Nora to the couple’s complex relationships with a few friends and coworkers.

Marlowe, a seasoned Chicagoland director, believes it’s a great introduction to the world of theatre because it’s endlessly debatable and relatable, even today.

“Almost everyone can look at these characters and their relationships and see either themselves or someone they know,” Marlowe says. “You can see how much we have changed—there were fewer choices available to women in those days—and you can see how far we still have to go.”

At its 1879 premiere in Copenhagen, “A Doll House” shocked and scandalized audiences. It questioned men’s and women’s roles in society, and in some people’s minds, it endangered the sanctity of marriage. Marlowe wondered how she could make the play as affecting to 21st-century audiences, now accustomed to divorce and financially independent women, as it was to 19th-century theatre patrons.

“I wanted this piece to be more powerful, for us to understand more clearly the sacrifices Nora is making by leaving not only her husband but also her children,” she says. “I wanted it to be hard for us to look at that.”

After poring over several different English translations and feeling unsatisfied, Marlowe decided she’d adapt the play herself. Working from a literal translation of the original Danish, she created an adaptation that gives Nora’s children a much larger role in the play.

“I was inspired by ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ on Broadway, which has a lot of scenes between Nora and the daughter she left behind,” Marlowe says. “I felt that that mother-child relationship in my adaptation should be very important, that you should see the children watching their mother leave.”

Marlowe’s adaptation also notably uses the title “A Doll House” rather than “A Doll’s House” to emphasize that the house doesn’t belong to Nora—nor is she the only doll living there. 

“Torvald is as humanly undeveloped and as much of a doll as Nora,” she says. “Our sets will really make that point—the house will be made to look like one of those cutout paper doll houses we used to play with.”

By setting the play in the traditional Victorian period, with all its rich colors, sumptuous details and repressed feelings, Marlowe hopes she’s created enough distance from today’s time that audiences can make connections to their own lives without feeling personally attacked.

“There are tons of people, even now, who are putting on an act for their spouses, who are just trying to please someone to push through to an easier period in their lives,” she says. “Maybe this play can give people who have long been patronized and discounted the courage to pick themselves up out of uncomfortable situations.”

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