Review

Riverwalk Theatre's 'A Doll House:' Not just anchor desk theater

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When Henrik Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House” in 1879, he had no idea his play would become a lasting symbol of feminist empowerment. Ibsen certainly never conceived that his script would end up on a Zoom computer program.

Riverwalk’s streamed version of “A Doll’s House” goes beyond the usual boundaries of Zoom. Its production isn’t just another example of “anchor desk theatre.”

Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances remain for the unique Riverwalk show. A ticket allows access for a singular device during the time of the viewing purchased. Like a real play, there is no pausing or rewinding.

Director Brian Farnham — with significant technical and editing help from Matt Ottinger — created a Zoom adaptation of “A Doll’s House” that offers more than individual panels with talking heads. Two Christmas trees are melded to appear as one. A key is “exchanged” from one character to another. Separate rooms look like one.

A fluid dance performance by Rachel Daugherty, choreographed by Amanda Tollstam, reveals graceful head-to-toe movements that are remarkable for a Zoom show. As Nora, Daugherty gives a forceful performance reminiscent of a young Joan Crawford. 

With classy period costumes by Amanda Macomber, the six cast members make us forget they are acting in front of a computer screen. 

Jace Harper portrays Nora’s mostly clueless husband, Torvald. As the mandatory villain in the melodrama, Joe Clark is believable. Kate Dickenson is Clark’s real-life fiancé. She confidently plays Christine, an old flame. Bob Purosky suits the role of a doctor who speaks in riddles and metaphors.

With the help of a massive wig, Abbie Tykocki plays both the maid and nurse to children we never see. Although Ibsen seemed to comprehend a woman’s plight, his sensitivity didn’t extend to children treated as if they were inconsequential.

“A Doll’s House” tells the story of a married lady who illegally obtains a loan — based on a real Norwegian woman Ibsen met in 1871. Nora mirrors Laura Peterson, who borrowed money to help her ailing husband. The harsh treatment she suffered, including being committed briefly to an asylum, made Ibsen reflect on how women can’t be independent in a world run by men.

In his notes for “A Doll’s House,” Ibsen wrote, “A woman cannot be herself in modern society with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess female conduct from a male standpoint.”   

The three-act play runs just under two hours with an intermission. Farnham keeps the dialogue moving so the play never seems to slog.

There are times when actors look the wrong way, microphone levels vary and there are no attempts for actors to look toward each other. The well-rehearsed cast, clear images and Daugherty’s performance make such complaints seem less important.

Besides, Riverwalk’s “A Doll’s House” is a respectable replica of the live theater I (and so many others) am hungry for. Perhaps it’s foolish to quibble about the menu.

“A Doll’s House”

$20

Feb. 12 - 14

Viewable on Riverwalktheatre.com

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