Friday, October 16, 2009

A Doll's House

A week ago I went to see a play:  A Doll's House, (Et Dukkehjem) by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
It was written in 1879, and I believe it is his most famous, still being played regularly, all over the world.
It has been part of the  Norwegian (usually middle) school curriculum for generations.
The plot is this:  Nora Helmer is married to Torvald Helmer, and they have three children.  Nora seems happy and carefree as a little doll in the doll's house, but we soon learn that appearences can be deceiving.  She decides to leave her family, simply because she can't do otherwise.

Ibsen attacks the 19th century's marriage norms, where wives were supposed to be sweet, little things, without opinions or even thoughts.
He depicts the Helmer's home as a doll's house, where Nora is Torvald's doll, and the children are hers.
There has never been any real  contact between the spouses, and the way he his calling her "bird", "squirrel" etc. enforces that picture.  He is never really listening to her!

What Nora does in the end of the play, is outrageous, seen from the time the play was written.   She is acting in a way that is unheard, and by leaving, she also sacrifices every right to her own children, as it was by law at that time...

I don't see this as an endorsement for divorce, but rather a statement about the importance of a human being's right to be respected and the need for us all to have a real connection in our life.

The version I saw last week was by Riksteatret, which is a state owned theater company who tours Norway.  They have a handful of plays every season, and they travel to many small towns (like my own) and even to the countryside, where there is no institutional theater.  The plays are set up in movie theaters or community halls.  Every year there is a new cast of professional Norwegian actors joining the company.

They were amazing!  The scenography was timeless, but could really have been in  2009,  and they had also done minor adjustments, for instance when there was talk about money.

The actress Ulrikke Hansen Døvigen, as Nora, made us believe in the caracter.  We really understand her, and feel extremely sorry for her.
Torvald Helmer is played by Glenn André Kaada, Dr Rank by Trond Høvig, Mr. Krogstad by Håkon Ramstad, Nora's friend Kristine by Turid Gunnes, and the au pair Maria by Sara Saban.
See here (Norwegian) for the company's own website.

Here is a small transcript, from the play's final scene.  It is late at night Christmas Day, and Nora has announced to her husband that she is leaving.

Nora: I must try and get some sense, Torvald.

Helmer: To desert your home, your husband and your children!  And you don't consider what people will say!

Nora: I cannot consider that at all.  I only know that it is necessary for me.

Helmer: It's shocking.  This is how you would neglect your most sacred duties.

Nora: What do you consider my most sacred duties?

Helmer: Do I need to tell you that?  Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?

Nora: I have other duties just as sacred.

Helmer: That you have not.  What duties could those be?

Nora: Duties to myself.
Helmer: You are ill, Nora; you are delirious; I almost think you are out of your mind.

Nora: I have never felt my mind so clear and certain as tonight.

Helmer: And is it with a clear and certain mind that you forsake your husband and your children?

Nora: Yes, it is.
Nora: Goodbye, Torvald.  I won't see the little ones.  I know they are in better hands than mine.  As I am now, I can be of no use to them.

Helmer: But some day, Nora, some day?

Nora: How can I tell?  I have no idea what is going to become of me.
Helmer: (sinks down on a chair at the door and buries his face in his hands)  Nora!  Nora! (Looks around and rises.) Empty.  She is gone.
(The sound of a door shutting is heard from below.)

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