This Doll’s Got Charm … and Brains

Iread once about paradigms: If a man is sitting on a bus, heedless of the commotion his three young, unkempt, unruly, whiny children are causing, you’d probably be annoyed. What if you found out his wife had just died? You’d likely view the scene with more compassion.

A Doll’s House by The Actors’ Group is about equally substantial – in this case, shattering -paradigm shifts. A husband and wife and their various friends and acquaintances are going about their little lives as complacently as ever when a series of events causes them, particularly the wife, to reassess their worldview. In the lead as sprightly housewife Nora Helmer, Anemone Jones is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Aaron Roberge, Anemone Jones and David C. Farmer

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Aaron Roberge as Mr. Helmer, Anemone Jones as Mrs. Helmer and David C. Farmer as Dr. Rank. Photo by Loren K.D. Farmer

To see Nora smile and twirl in delight is to adore her, and her husband does, in a cringe-worthy, patriarchal, patronizing way – she’s his plaything, his “songbird,” his “squirrel,” his “child,” his “helpless little mortal.” This is Norway in the late 1800s, so the connubial couple are fully immersed in their expected domestic roles.

However, a fissure begins forming in the foundation of their familial felicity in the shape of a loan Nora has secretly made from a shady character (Tony Nickelsen as Mr. Krogstad). She seeks the money in the interest of her husband’s welfare, but in the fallout of that act, she’s hoisted by her own petard. The problem is, under the pretty dress, and the coy nibbling on sweetmeats (her husband forbids her this pleasure for fear she’ll lose her feminine figure), is a lady bubbling over with more intellect and astuteness than Mr. Helmer or society has given her credit for.

The metaphor that best describes the relationship is a scene where Mr. Helmer (Aaron Roberge) plays piano faster and faster urging Nora to dance just as he’s taught her. He plays and plays more vigorously while chiding her footwork, and she responds to the cacophony in a frenzy of jumping and spinning until she collapses, exhausted. She’s his puppet, you can almost see the strings.

There’s not a misstep in this entrancing production by Brad Powell, who directed and personally translated the work of 19th century playwright Henrik Ibsen. The program pamphlet comes with a translation sheet of Norwegian words that speckle the production and give it an authentic touch. The accents, which are believable and easy on the ears, and the knickknacks and décor of the Helmers’ house give the production added Norwegian flair.

The setting and characters may be foreign, and delightfully so, but the subject speaks to each of us in a way so profound that it’s a travesty not to be able to sit and have a group chat after every performance, to untangle some of the themes and choices that drive each character. Mr. Helmer is not a bad man. You can’t help but feel sympathy for him, and some of the choices Mrs. Helmer makes are not above reproach. That’s part of what makes this production so appealing – tragedy abounds, but who’s the perpetrator and who’s the victim in the tangle of lies, withheld truths and blindness that plague these complex characters?

Despite the meaty topics, there’s a light spirit to the show, perhaps because there’s so much comedy in all the drama. You walk away not downtrodden, but uplifted and questioning. The key players offer a series of revelations from an awkward and strangely bittersweet moment between Nora and family friend Dr. Rank (David C. Farmer), to a vital scene featuring Sara Cate Langham as Nora’s old school friend, the newly widowed Kristine. As soon as we get comfortable with a character, they suddenly leave us on shaky ground – is Mr. Krogstad really so awful? Do we cut him some slack if it’s society or the vicissitudes of love that made him that way? The audience is invited to ponder these questions and many more in this journey of captivating dialogue and unexpected circumstances. And it’s all done with such class and subtlety that you feel like you have a magic window into your neighbor’s living room, even if that neighbor be in Norway some 100-plus years ago.

the TICKET stub


When: Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 1
Where: Dole Cannery Square (650 Iwilei Road, Suite 101)
Cost: $12-$20
More Info: 722-6941