Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Reader: Various, including Elizabeth Klett and David Muncaster

The play: As part of Women's History Month, I decided to read what is considered a founding piece of feminist literature. In the play, Nora and Torvald Helmer appear to have an ideal marriage, by the middle-class standards of the 19th century. Nora is expected to do nothing more than look pretty and play with the children, while Torvald handles all the serious affairs of the household. Nora, however, has a secret, which without giving away too much, will cause her to question the underlying assumptions of her marriage and threaten the stability of the relationship.

A Doll's House caused a sensation when it was first performed. Reference is made to extramarital sex, congenital venereal disease, the role of women in the workplace, and other touchy subjects in Victorian Age society. As a modern reader, what shocked me were not these old taboos, but things that would seem normal in the time it was written: Torvald constantly referring to his wife as a pet songbird or trained squirrel, the opposition to women solving any problems with money, and most of all, the patronizing attitude towards women in general. I think when I first read this play in high school, I didn't see the subtext of Torvald's oppression of his wife and thought that Nora was merely a shallow, selfish airhead. After having grown up a bit and experienced marriage firsthand, I can now see why Ibsen's play is so important.

Rating: 8 / 10

The readers: Like all LibriVox plays, this one is edited together from actors reading their parts separately. This method can sometimes lead to a disjointed performance, but in this play it works out fine, though it's still apparent that the recordings were cobbled together. Much of the success of the play is due to a marvelous performance by Elizabeth Klett as Nora. As I stated above, Nora can be misinterpreted as a self-centered ditz, but Klett shows that Nora has a natural vivacity that has been channeled into the only paths allowed by her husband. David Muncaster does a decent job as Torvald, though his subdued performance cause some of Torvald's more emotional lines to fall flat, losing an opportunity to broaden the character. The other characters, range from excellent, as in Andy's sly flirtation with Nora as Dr. Rank, to merely adequate, but none have enough stage time to ruin or elevate the play as a whole.

(Cover design copyright Nick Bluth)
(Entered in the Book Review Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell. Follow the link for reviews of other books by various bloggers)

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Sounds unique. :)

I am stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Party.