The Stunning “A Doll’s House” At Stray Dog Is A Classic That, Today, Amuses Rather Than Shocks

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Ben Ritchie as Torvald and Nicole Angeli as Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

When the Henrik Ibsen classic, “A Doll’s House,” premiered in 1879, it shocked with themes of women’s liberation and ideas that polite society never thought about, let alone talked about. Now, during the final act of this production at Stray Dog Theatre, Torvald’s words elicit snickers instead of gasps but it’s such a well honed and beautiful story that one can’t help but appreciate the language as well as the intent of Ibsen’s work.

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Nicole Angeli as Nora and Stephen Peirick as Nils in the Stray Dog Theatre production of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Photo: John Lamb

Nora lives a life of the complacent housewife who worries about Christmas presents and, quite frankly, opens the play with such effusion and delight that you’re surprised when she later reveals a dark secret. Her husband, Torvald, showers her in affection and even gives her little baby animal names as he chides her on the holiday purchases while “tsk-tsk”ing her like you would a not so naughty child. But her secret becomes apparent in a series of circumstances when Torvald accepts a new position (lawyer to banker) and is about to get rid of one of his new employees.

Nora is secretly deep in debt to the fired employee, Nils, and despite her pleas to help her friend Kristine who has lost her husband as well as most of her money, she realizes that when Torvald makes way for her in the bank by firing Nils, she must pay up to Nils immediately. This four way dilemma opens a fifth door when an old friend, Dr. Rank, expresses his love for Nora- a problem she doesn’t need when all of these other things fill her plate. Then, the stunning finale occurs when Nora decides she doesn’t need Torvald’s condescension nor the traditional trappings of marriage and boldly makes her statement that shocked audiences in 1879 but has then cheering in 2017.

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Nicole Angeli as Nora consoles Ben Ritchie as Torvald in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

A most diverse actress, Nicole Angeli, is perfect as Nora. She moves from almost clueless housewife to rebel as she becomes increasingly overwhelmed with her situation. And actress who handles both comedy and drama with equal aplomb, she is nothing short of outstanding in this very difficult role. Ben Ritchie is equally adept in roles running from broad humor to his previous triumph, Macbeth. As Torvald, he is a rigid taskmaster with a marvelous penchant for sappy sexism when it comes to Nora. It’s a controlled performance that opens bit by bit until his final, audacious rampage.

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John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie and Nicole Angeli in the Stray Dog Theatre production of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Photo: John Lamb

Rachel Hanks returns to Stray Dog and gives a wonderful performance as Kristine. She, too, has a few secrets she reveals to Nora and then, surprisingly, has a connection to Nils as well. Stephen Peirick gives a ramrod performance as Nils. With a mix of desperation and stern conviction, he won’t let anything stand in the way of achieving his goals. John N. Reidy rounds out the major cast as the quiet but always lurking Dr. Rank. You get the feeling that he knows more than he is letting on as he moves through the household with an almost surreptitious presence.

Also in the cast are Melanie Kozak and Tina Renard as domestics in Nora and Torvald’s household and a short appearance by Simon Desilets and Joe Webb as their children. The lavish set design befitting their rank in the community is the work of Robert J. Lippert and the stunning costumes are by Eileen Engel. Tyler Duenow’s lights are spot on and Justin Been’s sound design is superb as well.

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John N. Reidy as Dr. Rank shares his feeling with Nicole Angeli as Nora in “A Doll’s House” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

This adaptation of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” has been adapted by Frank McGuinness and offers a straight forward and easy to follow plot. Despite being three acts, director Gary F. Bell has paced the play beautifully. It goes by leaving you hanging on edge for the next act and the powerful finale is a thing of beauty. “A Doll’s House” plays through February 18th and you can contact Stray Dog Theatre at 314-865-1995 or at straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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