Thursday, November 29, 2012

Play: A Doll's House

The Norwegian play "A Doll's House" which premiered in Denmark in December 1879 is a play much like William Russell's "Educating Rita", first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in June 1980 in London, nearly a century later. Both plays have been selected in the last few months to be acted out in The Probationary Theater, and
both plays depict the growing awareness of a woman who was curbed by the social confines of her era, her social class and the men in her lives. Both plays deal with an awakening to self-awareness, self-development and the need for self-pride, not the kind that is cast off from the man she is attached to but deserving by her own existence and state of contribution to society. Institutional marriages become the object of discussion, not acceptance, the male-female hierarchy totters, and the women seek to explore what it is to be a woman beyond the confines they have hitherto not questioned.

While "Educating Rita", set a century later, was more about a woman fighting the mental confines of her low social class, "A Doll's House" was about a woman objectified into being a beautiful little doll, purposeless, functionless except as an armpiece and for the social setting, and sadly, voiceless. The "doll" in the house is told how to decorate, how to dress, how even to greet her squelchingly condescending husband upon his return every evening. The "doll" becomes a little bird that flutters and makes half-hearted attempts to be seen for what she is beyond being a "doll" without life of her own, until at the end of the play, the "doll" becomes animated with action, and flings herself against the gilded bars of her household cage and she flies out to discover ... herself. The play closed with the soon-to-be tasted freedom. The audience seemed hesitant at first before clapping at such a hint of the future, but not being given the satisfaction of knowing it.

When Ibsen wrote his play, this was such a magnificent ending for no one would know where the escape from the traditional male-dominated home could lead, so what a climax! UNESCO recognized in Ibsen's play quality of such value that the autographed manuscripts of "A Doll's House" were inscribed on the Memory of the World's Registry in 2001, in recognition of its historical value. I recognize it as a great play, especially as it invoked in me the rising frustration and anger that the "doll" was starting to feel. While she awakened to awareness of what her husband had made of her, I felt anger (perhaps the more modern emotion triggered by the obvious inequality of the relationship) for the husband's cloyness amplified as his repeatedly tried to soothe and coddle his wife as if she were a toy, a little doll. The last twenty minutes of the play were so cloying with his condescending tones, his meaningless but controlling sweet-nothings while she struggled to assert herself and rise above the blankets of sappy codependent-power obsession that my fists were clenched, and wow was I proud when she swung on her coat, stated clearly why she was leaving and walked, head held majestically high, out the door!

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