Nora Helmer’s husband treats her as an object in their marriage, a songbird meant for entertainment.
A doll to be put away when the playing’s done.
As a result, Nora has never thought of herself as a person with thoughts and ideas until Torvald falls ill. She knows she must do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means forging a signature to secure a loan. She secretly pays the money off over the years, knowing that forgery could land her in jail.
But it’s Nora’s hope that Torvald will come to her rescue if her transgression is discovered.
Those familiar with Henrik Isben’s drama, “A Doll’s House,” know the rest of the story. But here’s a hint for those who didn’t read this classic in a high school or college English class, here’s a spoiler alert: Nora doesn’t stick around.
The story is considered the first play to take on a feminist theme with Nora’s decision to strike out on her own.
Ascension Community Theatre will explore this theme when it opens “A Dolls House” on Thursday, Feb. 26.
“When Isben wrote the play in 1879, it was unheard of for a woman to leave her husband and children,” Heidi Frederic says. “I was a theater major in college, and I wrote three essays on Nora. But I never really knew Nora until I played her on stage.”
Nora is a dream role for Frederic, whose theater classes at St. Amant High School will attend Ascension Community Theatre’s school performance on Tuesday, March 4.
“I’m excited about my students seeing me in this role,” Frederic says. “They’ve been with me from the beginning, when I started preparing for it. I decided to lose a few pounds before rehearsals, so I went on what I called the ‘Nora’ diet. When my students learned what I was doing, they left me inspirational notes that said, ‘You can do it’ and ‘You’re going to kill this.’”
“I think they’re excited about seeing the play, too,” she says.
Director Mattie Olsen ran through the final scene in the three-act play on this particular rehearsal night, revealing not only Nora’s transgression but also Torvald’s.
“The play’s theme still holds true today,” says Derek Bourque, who plays Torvald. “Here’s a woman who has given everything for her family, and she’s made to feel less for it, because of it. And Torvald is oblivious to this until it hits him in the end.”
Now don’t misunderstand, Torvald doesn’t abuse Nora, but she comes to realize that she isn’t the man of her dreams. Perhaps it’s simply a case of Nora’s finally growing up, but Isben’s exploration of the subject was taboo in the 19th century.
“A Doll’s House” premiered on Dec. 21, 1879, at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark. Isben was forced to write an alternative ending for the 1880 production in Flensburg, Germany, after actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to portray a woman leaving her children.
Nora collapses in front of her children in that version. Despite Niemann-Raabe’s protests, the original ending eventually was restored.
“Nora is hoping a miracle will happen, and when it doesn’t, she realizes she’s living a lie,” Frederic says. “She has to figure out who she is first before she can be a wife and a mother.”
Nora has another issue to deal with when family friend Dr. Rank reveals his unrequited love for her.
“He’s a protector, maybe even a father figure to Nora,” says Warren Fraser, who plays Rank. “But he’s also in love with her. He understands that Nora is not appreciated and not acknowledged for who she is. But when he attempts to tell her how she feels, she immediately goes into her false role of Torvald’s devoted wife.”
Rank pays the couple a visit in the final act, revealing yet another secret. But enough with the spoilers. Those who want to learn what happens will have to make a trip to the Pasqua Theatre in Gonzales, where they’ll learn that damsels in distress can’t always count on knights in shining armor.
They sometimes have to depend on themselves.