Theatre groups find social relevance from 19th century play

By Priya Amin, news correspondent

Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” is popular with the Boston performing arts scene this season. Two theatre groups less than a mile away from each other will perform versions of his story about self-realization under societal and cultural pressures.

The Northeastern Department of Theatre’s production “Nora” will open Feb. 15. The Huntington Theatre Company’s show “A Doll’s House” opened on Jan. 6. The adaptation “Nora,” written by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, is distinct in that it doesn’t feature Nora’s children or include the original Norwegian setting.

While it may seem coincidental that two theatre groups in close proximity to each other are producing versions of the same play, it is not unusual for two neighboring theatre groups to produce the same play, said Nancy Kindelan, professor of theatre at Northeastern.

“It’s in the air. That’s what you would usually say,” said Kindelan. “It’s always very interesting that often we plan a season in the theatre department for the following academic year and then we find out the American Repertory Theatre or the Huntington or some theatre in the area is contemplating the play also.”

Though both theatre groups chose their plays awhile ago, there are still connections between Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and the current social and political climate. Production members from “Nora” mentioned its relation to the recent presidential election and upcoming inauguration.

“It is my personal opinion that one of the people that most lost with the presidential election in this country were women as a whole,” said Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, Northeastern professor of theatre and director of “Nora”. “I think it is important to keep presenting stories of strong women.”

The original play by Ibsen is set in Norway in the late 19th century. It tells the story of Nora, mother of three children and wife of Torvald, as she struggles to find her purpose while feeling trapped by her husband and his home. In the end, she decides to leave her family in order to find out who she really is.

“[Nora] really can’t be a good mother until she discovers more about who she is,” Kindelan said. “I would say the same thing about people today. They really can’t be good ‘whatevers’—you can put whatever you word you want in there—until they have a strong understanding of who they are.”

While many interpret “A Doll’s House” to be a feminist play, others—including Ibsen himself—have argued that it is not.

The theme that manifests itself across versions of the play is the idea of finding oneself. Bella Tasha, a senior theatre major and “Nora” set designer, who will also play Mrs. Linde in Northeastern’s “Nora” production, said she can relate to that theme.

“Finding your own self-worth is something college students are dealing with all the time,” Tasha said. “I know I’m personally trying to figure out how do I be alone and spend time with myself and not feel bad about it? A lot of people I know are dealing with that [and learning that] you can be alone for awhile and be okay.”

Stephanie LeBolt, assistant to the artistic director at the Huntington Theatre Company, said the play is about more than feminism.

“The villain in the play is really society,” LeBolt said. “Both Nora and [her husband] are subject to that track to keep up the cost of pretending and what it means to be an individual in a larger society, which of course we can relate to today.”

Ocampo-Guzman said another important idea in the play is understanding how to love another person. He said many of his students are in the process of exploring relationships and learning how to be in successful in them.

“My suspicion is many of our students will go into relationships or marriages within 10 years of graduating college and marriages are not easy,” Ocampo-Guzman said. “The nature of a true unconditional love and acceptance of [another] person is something that we all can continue to understand and grapple with.”

Lebolt said she is excited to bring the classic show into a more modern world.

“We don’t have as many opportunities as we would like to bring women’s voices to classic texts. So we were really excited about this new adaptation. It’s a very modern adaptation,” LeBolt said. “It was a combination of the artists and our space and our excitement about the adaptation that solidified why it was right for us this season.”

“A Doll’s House” will be performed by the Huntington Theatre Company until Feb. 5. “Nora” will be performed in the Ryder Hall Theatre Lab until Feb. 19. Tickets are available through the companies’ respective websites.

Photo by Dylan Shen

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