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Burning Down the “House”

Henley Street's erratic take on Ibsen.

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With all the hype around Henley Street Theatre Company's final production of the season, Henrik Ibsen's “A Doll's House,” and the high-quality productions it has produced so far this year, something glorious is expected. But as Torvald disappoints Nora in Ibsen's plot, so does the play.

Director Anna Johnson has interpreted the play almost literally to the stage. The combination of the stiff direct script and Johnson's use of her actors as emotionless, one-dimensional characters gives the effect of a child's simple interpretation of human nature in which people can make dramatic personality changes in minutes. 

The actors move about the set like marionettes — mere vehicles for delivering the words — making Ibsen's first realist play more stylized than realistic. This means that one goes to see this production for the social message rather than the production itself. 

And what a social message it is. Ibsen explores the inconsistencies of the acceptable social roles available to women in the late 1800s through each of the female characters. Anne Marie (Jolene Carroll), the maid, must sacrifice raising her own child to take the job of raising other people's children. A widowed woman, like Kristine Linde (Jennifer Frank), could hold a job and support herself but a married woman is little more than the property of her husband and perceived as incapable.

Jennie Meharg proves the exception to the cast. She's able to transcend the dry script and make her Nora vibrantly childlike in the beginning and a self-aware woman at the end. She's a fantastic actress and a joy to watch while she prances about David Clark's beautifully decorated set in lovely costumes designed by Patricia S. Morris.

The production is a bit long and at points quite dry, but Meharg's performance is worth the ticket price.

“A Doll's House” runs on selected dates through May 29 at Pine Camp Arts Center. For information call 340-0115 or go to henleystreettheatre.org.

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