American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
By Sheila Regan, Isthmus, August 22, 2019.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House first premiered in Copenhagen 140 years ago, and yet in American Players Theatre’s new production the story still resonates. Despite the period costumes, set design, and historical context, the patriarchal structures and attitudes illustrated in the story feel uncomfortably contemporary.
At first, Kelsey Brennan portrays the central character of Nora Helmer as flighty, self-centered, and performative. Nora never stops moving, buzzing about the stage like a trapped animal. Brennan uses her voice to further illustrate the extreme state of her anxiety, gasping in a high pitch when she is trying to appear to laugh.
Nora isn’t a particularly likable character. She constantly uses manipulation, deception and flirtatiousness to get what she wants. In the second act, her use of sexual appeal goes on overdrive as she desperately tries to get herself out of the web of lies she’s made for herself, only to have everything fall apart.
Nora’s apparent histrionics are really the trick of Ibsen’s play, highlighted in this production at the indoor Touchstone Theatre, which was adapted by Simon Stephens. Brennan is masterful in the role, and her performance in the last act — as Nora’s pretenses are stripped away, and she awakens as a reborn modern woman — stuns in its dramatic transformation.
Under the direction of Keira Fromm, the audience gets to watch Nora’s trajectory not only in scenes with other actors, but in moments we see her alone on stage, consumed with emotion. Michael A. Peterson’s lighting design helps shape these intimate moments with increasing intensity as the play progresses. Andrew Boyce’s set, meanwhile, reinforces an intimate and at times suffocating location for the action.
Nate Burger interprets Nora’s husband, newly promoted bank manager Torvald Helmer, unraveling in a slow burn. He starts out as a mildly patronizing husband (calling Nora his “hamster,” his “skylark,” and other condescending pet names), and his behavior escalates to a brutishness verging on violence. Ultimately, when his wife holds a mirror up to his chauvinism, he becomes a man blindsided.