Yuka Oba in rehearsal as Nora Helmer in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House; photo by James Sofranko

By company dancer Connie Flachs

Now that we’ve met the author, Henrik Ibsen, let’s meet his famously strong female characters that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.

First up is Nora Helmer (played by company dancer Yuka Oba) from his 1879 three-act play, A Doll’s House, which premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21.

The play is significant for the way it deals with the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a “storm of outraged controversy” that went beyond the theater to the world newspapers and society.[Wikipedia]

Nora invites you into her immaculate sitting room, not too expensively furnished, but neat and orderly. She appears on first glance as the ideal nineteenth-century wife: dainty and saccharine-sweet like the macaroons she offers you. However, as you chat longer, you notice something is amiss. The doll-like existence she lives doesn’t fully suit her; her husband, Torvald (played by company dancer Nathan Young), treats her delicately, as though she is a child, without any agency. He draws attention repeatedly to her beauty and talks endlessly about their happiness. Stealing bites of macaroon as he looks away seems to be the only way she exercises her own power.

As her husband leaves the room, Nora leans in closely in confidence. Her previous smiles have vanished and a fire burns behind her eyes. She confesses she has recently taken out a secret loan to help pay for her husband’s medical treatment. At this point in history, women can’t partake in such financial endeavors so she cunningly forged a signature and she’s dealing with the fallout of it: blackmail.

“Something glorious is about to happen,” she whispers. Her husband is about to learn she has been performing “tricks” with other men in an attempt to pay off the debt ensued for his health. She believes he will sacrifice his reputation to protect her. You nod slowly, not wanting to mar her optimism, but leave with a queasy feeling about the matter.

No word comes from Nora over the next few weeks until a neighbor asks if you’ve heard of the Helmer’s scandal. “She just left,” your gossiping neighbor whisper-yells. “Walked out on him and the children. Can you even begin to fathom….?”

But you can. You have seen the fire in her eyes, you know of her defiance. Her husband failed her expectations, sacrificing his devotion and integrity to the woman he has married for the public theater of happiness and dignity. She was done playing the role of the doll. As the scene ends with the slam of a door, you wonder if you will see her again, free in the wild world outside the doll’s house.

For tickets to Extremely Close, call 616.454.4771 x10 or tap or click here.

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