Nora looks for meaning in CTC's 'A Doll's House'

By Clint Cooper Article posted on Thu. Feb. 7th, 2013
Joanna Keeling portrays the complex Nora in the CTC Circle Theatre’s “A Doll’s House.”
Joanna Keeling portrays the complex Nora in the CTC Circle Theatre’s “A Doll’s House.”
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

What: "A Doll's House"

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15-16 and Feb. 22-23; 7 p.m. Feb. 14 and Feb. 21; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 17 and Feb. 24

Where: Mildred M. Montague Circle Theatre, Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.

Admission: $30 (opening night), $10-$25 (other performances)

Phone: 267-8534

Website: TheatreCentre.com

Nora Helmer is trying to find herself.

In the overdramatic 21st century, that phrase is just boring psychobabble.

But a century and a half ago, the Noras of the world didn't do that.

"A Doll's House," the classic Henrik Ibsen drama involving a young woman's desire to find her true self within the confines of her 19th-century marriage, opens tonight in the Mildred M. Montague Circle Theatre at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

A play about a woman who leaves her husband "in 2013 is not all that interesting and different," said director Scott Dunlap, who set the play in Charleston, S.C., just before the outbreak of the Civil War. "Putting it in a time when it raised the stakes for someone to do that" would make her future "even more unsure."

Setting the drama "in a romanticized setting" for a theater in a town in the midst of battlefields also helps "us relate to it a little more," he said.

Dunlap said he also added several slave monologues from the time period to "tie it in a little bit" and help audiences understand the action outside of the Helmer house.

The timing of recent calls for secession by people in various states following President Obama's re-election didn't hurt, either, he said.

However, the thrust of the play is not the setting but Nora, though it is not the feminist drama many, including Dunlap, once thought it was.

"It really is sort of timeless -- Ibsen's point about finding yourself and making a stand for yourself to be the person you know you should be," he said.

And Nora is not the tragic figure one might think, Dunlap said.

She "is just as much to blame [for her traditional situation] as her husband," he said. "And it isn't as if the husband [Torvald] is bad. He's not a great guy, but in his world he's operating the best way he knows how."

Nora, though, has some of the traits of the 21st-century person who only thinks of herself, according to Dunlap.

"What I've tried to do [with the character]," he said, is make her "kind of selfish and self-centered. Her eye is opened to more than the world, and she has to get out of the house."

That desire, according to Dunlap, stands in contrast to those who opposed slavery or the Vietnam War.

"People taking a stand not just about themselves -- that's what we're missing now," he said.

Veteran Chattanooga Theatre Centre actress Joanna Keeling portrays the "extremely difficult" role of Nora, Dunlap said. "Physically demanding" for being onstage almost the entire play, the role also calls for the play to be seen through her eyes.

The actress who plays the character, he said, has to eschew "driving the boat" and let [the action] happen to her. She has to listen and respond."

Keeling has done "an amazing job," Dunlap said. "Besides the line load, she has gone through the paces with me" in helping her learn to experience the character's world. "She's been patient. She's learned so much. She's grown so much as an actor. She's created a really interesting character to watch. I feel like she's living it."

The play is recommended for adult audiences.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

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