In Torvald Helmer, Ibsen created the consummate egotist—a bourgeois man whose "integrity" is based in scornful judgment of his peers, whose manly strength relies on the myth of womanly weakness, and who abandons both courage and compassion in the face of personal risk. With so monstrous a husband, is there anyone who does not applaud his co-dependent wife's demand for a trial separation?
But what shocked audiences in 1879—and continues to do so to this day—was not simply Nora Helmer's flight from her stuffy hub ( which might be only temporary ) . A woman speaking of "duty to oneself" constituted a declaration of independence that threatened the very foundations of an economical system founded on the assumption of a docile and unpaid workforce. Nowadays, the proliferation of divorce have made breadwinning parity and childcare responsibilities pressing issues, but Frank McGuinness' adaptation focuses more on the intergender dynamics at the root of this inequity.
Their prenuptial acknowledgment of individual autonomy and hints of a past romance render the reunion of Nils Krogstad, a widower with children, and Kristine Linde, a spinster looking for a family, less of a capitulation to the status quo. But the Helmers present more of a problem for social psychology-savvy modern audiences ( particularly the question of why Nora's childishness should be appealing to two men as temperamentally disparate as her profligate father and rock-ribbed spouse ) . Robert Scogin's direction allows us to see the steel beneath the sugar early on in the play, but not the loneliness of the adult encumbered by a doggedly zealous Barbie.
Fortunately, Lia Mortensen and Si Osborne act up such a storm, her manic-edged cheerfulness the perfect foil to his smug complacency, that we rarely consider whether Torvald might also have his grievances. Steve Cardamone and Lesley Bevan make Krogstad and Kristine an appropriately sympathetic pair of sadder-but-wisers. While Ted Hoerl as the physician doomed by his genes and Deborah Davis as the housekeeper whose job description did not include daycare illustrate passive acceptance of the conditions that spark Nora's rebellion.
Purists may lament the diminished gravity of Next Theatre's lively interpretation, with its rapid-paced delivery and blindingly accurate Victorian colors, but Ibsen's championing of equal rights for all citizens is no less immediate and controversial for the contemporary spin put on it in this highly original production.