Burning Down the (Doll’s) House

a-dolls-house-one-sheetWhile I can appreciate the historical importance of Henrik Ibsen’s seminal work, A Doll’s House, as well as comprehend why it was so controversial in 1879 when it premiered, I also understand that its time has passed. Producers: cut it out. Stop producing this tripe. Leave it to theater history classes. Let actors and directors and dramaturgs read it, but please stop putting it on the stage.

I’ll tell you why: Just because something came first doesn’t mean that it’s the best. We don’t keep flying the Wright Brothers’ first plane model, do we? No. It has been improved upon. We don’t still wear animal skins – fashion evolves all the time. So it should be with A Doll’s House. It may be the first play in which a woman dumps a misogynist creep, but it’s a lousy play by modern dramaturgical standards and no longer has anything to say to us.

Some specific reasons to retire it:

FORM – the play is three acts long. That format – with rare exception – is no longer in vogue, and the play doesn’t sustain its length – it’s almost all TALK.

EXPOSITION – the play is about 3/4 exposition to 1/4 actual plot (being generous, not that much happens). This is tedious to modern ears. Stop TELLING us what happened and DO something!

CONTRIVANCES – this is the play’s greatest failing for a modern audience. Any theatrical piece requires some contrivance in order to condense a story into a short time-frame, but this play relies on far too many coincidences to take it seriously:

  • The play begins with a convenient visit from Nora’s old friend Kristine,
  • who conveniently shows up to ask for a job at the bank that Nora’s husband (a poor lawyer, if you can believe it) has become manager of.
  • Nora conveniently tells Kristine the tale of how she took out an illicit loan to save her husband’s health, right around the time
  • her father conveniently died (so Nora could say he left her the money).
  • The money is owed to a man named Krogstad (another poor lawyer, if you can believe it, who conveniently had money to lend to Nora before, but doesn’t now,
  • and who conveniently works for Nora’s husband at that same bank).
  • Kristine, conveniently enough, used to be involved with Krogstad (though her dear friend, Nora, somehow doesn’t know this).
  • Nora’s husband fires Krogstad (at Christmas, the jerk) for forging another man’s name and gives the job to Kristine. How convenient.
  • Krogstad threatens to expose to hubby that Nora took out a loan by … wait for it … forging her father’s name on the document. (There was an awful lot of forgery going on in Norway back in the day, it seems.) He sends a letter saying as much (they have mail delivery on Christmas in Norway, apparently).
  • Kristine conveniently hooks back up with Krogstad, who is so happy,
  • he conveniently sends the bond back to Nora and hubby and calls the loan forgiven. Hubby berates Nora, but relents when the bond is returned. Nora finally grows a pair and walks out.

Now, these contrivances would be enough to make any dramaturg scream, but there’s more… Throw into this a rich doctor friend who tells Nora A) that he has always loved her, B) that would do anything for her and C) that he is dying very soon. That’s an insanely convenient trifecta – giving Nora a life-line to cushion her exit from hubby’s house – we know exactly where she’s headed when she slams that door at play’s close, from the care of one man to the care of another. How bold. How feminist. (Not.)

Please can’t we write some plays where women stand up to the patriarchy without assistance from some other man?  How about letting Nora stand on her own two feet? Ibsen is often, erroneously, given credit for her doing just that, but then why the character of Dr. Rank? Why the revelation of his loving her, that he’s terminal and that “he would do anything for her,” if not to give her a convenient way out? True heroes don’t have a cushion waiting to break their fall – they risk everything because it’s right – not because they have a solid insurance plan. Nora is actually just trading doll’s houses. From one where she isn’t appreciated to one where – hopefully – she is, but where the man involved is about to croak soon, anyway, so…who cares?

Who cares, indeed.

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2 Responses to Burning Down the (Doll’s) House

  1. I agree on this one. You and I argued about Merchant of Venice (and I still feel the way I did, then). But I agree that Ibsen’s piece is dated and contrived in the extreme. I’m interested in the sequel, which I really should have read by now. Have you?

    Like

    • Jeremy Cole says:

      I have not read A Doll’s House, Part 2… (I was intrigued, but terrified that it would mean reading the original again… Now that I’ve had a refresher, I’ll have to take a peek.)

      Liked by 1 person

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