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Human Desires Haunt 'A Doll's House'

Rhys Lovell directs Bob Kinsella and Connie Blick
Laura Kennedy
Rhys Lovell directs Bob Kinsella and Connie Blick in this rehearsal from "A Doll's House."

It was the door slam heard around the world.

When Nora, the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” walked out on her husband, her children, and the sham of a life she’d been leading, the closing of the door ended the play, but opened greater opportunities for women in theater to play a rich, dynamic character.

Rhys Lovell and Connie Blick
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Rhys Lovell directs Connie Blick as Nora in "A Doll's House."

Almost 150 years after it was first written, “A Doll’s House” is still a popular choice for theaters, drawing in audiences eager to see Nora throw off the shackles of a constricting marriage and march out into an uncertain future as her own woman.

Heartland Theatre in Normal is staging “A Doll’s House.” The show opens Nov. 1. Directed by Rhys Lovell, the play stars Connie Blick as Nora, a wife and mother who has come to realize that she is trapped in a marriage that prevents her from realizing her full potential. The play retains its Victorian era trappings, said Lovell, but audiences of today will be struck at just how contemporary the play feels.

“It speaks so perfectly to what we’re experiencing right now with the #MeToo movement,” Lovell said. “There’s that final moment when Nora walks away and you hear the door slam, it’s the last piece of action, that shutting of the door. In closing that door, it opened a door for women around the world. It was a piece of feminist writing before we even knew what feminism was.”

Blick is eager to tackle a role that is coveted by actresses.

“Playing this character is an opportunity to give a voice and a journey to a woman and see it through her perspective," she said.

At the debut performance of “A Doll’s House” in 1879, audiences sat in stunned silence after the final door slam, disbelieving that the play could end with a wife and mother walking out. A scathing indictment of patriarchal society, “A Doll’s House” was a thunderclap of controversy. After all these years, audiences may still be shocked by Nora’s leaving and seeking self-fulfillment, said Blick.

“It depends on where you are as an audience member if you find the play shocking. As a dedicated mother, I would wonder how she could walk out on her children. But on the other hand, if I follow that same journey as Nora, in certain parts of the play there’s things I can relate to and realize if I don’t know myself and if mother isn’t happy, nobody’s happy, then I can see that. I think audiences will understand why she makes the decision that she does.”

There are two different Noras in this play, said Lovell.

“There’s the Nora who we’re introduced to at the very beginning who, as we watch her interact with Torvald, there’s some real cringe-inducing moments where she’s catering to his every whim. But the thing is, she's wearing a mask. She’s acted this role for eight years in this marriage. She’s been pretending to be the loving, dutiful wife. But she’s just so unhappy."

Treated by her condescending husband, Torvald, as a feather-brained little imp, Nora indulges in small acts of rebellion throughout the play, Blick explained.

“She takes pride when she does go against the grain. She’s so different than a typical woman in that era because she is proud of that. She realizes that being try to herself is what’s most important.”

“A Doll’s House" opens Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 17 at Heartland Theatre in Normal.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.