Martin Rushmere on Marin Onstage’s production of Ibsen’s Doll’s House

(printed early to catch readers before the show ends)

A Doll’s House

Marin Onstage

Directed by Ron Nash

Little Theatre, St Vincent’s, Marin

Through November 17

Brave Nora? Poor Nora? Selfish Nora?  The strength of Marin Onstage’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll House is that the acting and dramatization are of such quality that they leave the audience free to make up its own mind whether Nora is justified in slamming the door on a marriage plus three children.

The production is so good that the questions Ibsen asked 130 years ago about women’s place in the world and home get beneath the skin and make a modern audience question its own complacency about marriage, the home and personal duty.

 As ever, 75 percent of the success or failure of the production lies with the lead role, and Stephanie Foster’s wonderful performance ensures the success. Her girlish twitter completes the impression of a naïve “little lark” concerned only with frivolous spending and making her husband happy. As Krogstad’s blackmail net draws closer the twitter is heard less often and becomes more forced. Director Ron Nash brings out the particular power of Foster in the frenzied tarantella dance rehearsal, timing the long pause at the end exactly to bring out the sense of impending doom that awaits Nora.  

But Foster could still show more steely resolve in the showdown with Torvald to prove that the “little lark” has flown away for ever.

Gabriel Ross as Torvald in fact is the more powerful in the final scene, particularly in forbidding his wife from having any future contact with the children and stopping her from reading Krogstad’s letter, even though it is addressed to her. The success of his own performance is ensured in the declaration “I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora–bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves” – shocking and thought-provoking at the same time.

Her retort restores the balance of power. “It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.”

 Jim McFadden brings out a fine measure of whining, crushed resentment against the world as Krogstad, making the observer reluctantly feel some compassion. But a greater sense of menace is needed to show he will destroy her husband if Nora does not meet his demands.

Bill McClave dons a competent persona as Dr. Rank, the family friend secretly in love with Nora. Their own denouement falls short of convincing however, almost as though McClave is not fully concentrating on delivering his admission – which sets the pace for the whole scene — with the right mix of emotions.

Kelsey Sloan as Mrs. Linde works up power and moves into her character as the scenes unfold. Her first scene elicits an “uh, oh, is she up to the part?” but she gains confidence and shades Krogstad in their big encounter.

Regardless of performance, Ibsen almost always brings out the bleakest aspects of humans. The comments on religion and suicide make us despair of our whole existence.

Ron Nash’s production proves that local companies (with the exception of a certain Marin group) do have the ability to stage the classics,which should not be the preserve of big city groups only.

A personal plea to directors and producers the world over. Why, ohhh why, are the slam of the door and the letter in the mailbox,   the enduring symbols of A Doll House, so often portrayed OFF STAGE? Just putting the mailbox on stage ratchets up the tension – and gives Nora a greater range of opportunities to show her state of mind.

Martin Rushmere is a writer and journalist from Sausalito, California and may be reached at martinzim@earthlink.net