PROVO — An Other Theater Company put a modern twist on Henrik Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House. Originally performed in 1879, A Doll’s House was (is?) a radically feminist piece about Nora Helmer, who illegally borrows money to save the life of her husband Torvald. When Neils Krogstad, a lawyer at the bank where Torvald has just been made manager, discovers the truth, Neils blackmails Nora to ensure his position at the bank. Things come to a head when Torvald finds out about Nora’s indiscretion and reveals his true character, forcing Nora to leave her family in search of her true place in the world.
Director Wade Robert Johnson set this production in present-day Provo, or a similar modern Mormon-based community. Nora (played by Hailey Nebeker) was a picture-perfect Instagram addict who was constantly updating her life on social media. Torvald (played by Carter Walker) was a real Peter Priesthood. To accommodate the updated setting, some of the text was modernized to include references to selfies, contemporary songs, tattoos, and costumes. I love this concept, and it rang true in the final scene when Torvald and Nora were arguing about faith and her place in the household.
Yet, I wish there had been more direct references to the concept throughout the show. Until the final scene, the only reason I knew these characters were supposed to be Mormon was the excellent set design by Kacey Spadafora and Taylor Jack Nelson. Nora and Christine (played by Laura Chapman) drank wine in Torvald’s presence, and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it; Torvald talked about buying the best wine for his Christmas party; and Dr. Rank (played by Kacey Spadafora) came in from the Christmas party clearly drunk and carrying a bottle of champagne. Nora’s costumes (desgined by Ash Knowles) seemed more thrifty than an Instagram star would wear. Nothing in the blocking or dialogue suggested that the characters were Mormon. With all of the other updates that had been made to the script, I think Johnson had grounds to push the concept farther and adjust the show more to accommodate his idea. That’s what I was hoping to see, but it almost felt like Johnson’s choices were being censored.
That being said, An Other Theater Company put on a good show. Laura Chapman as Christine was a clear standout. I was more invested in her story that anyone else’s—she connected to the text and to the other actors on stage effortlessly. She and Trevor Newsom (in the role of Neils Krogstad) had great chemistry. Newsom played a sympathetic Krogstad, and while he wasn’t very intimidating when he was confronting Nora, his quiet nature meant I believed that his relationship with Christine would soften his heart.
Kacey Spadafora was a genuine and likeable Dr. Rank. His natural confidence and easy nature made his scenes some of the most likeable of the show. I was heartbroken when he declared his love for Nora and so sorry when he told her he was dying. Carter Walker’s Torvald was the most likable Torvald I’ve ever seen on stage. He wasn’t cruel or overbearing, and his relationship with Nora was realistic and relateable.
Go see A Doll’s House. Even though I would have liked to see stronger directorial choices, I really enjoyed this show. I hope An Other Theatre Company will be around for a while—I’m excited to see what else they can do.