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The Slammed Door that Shook the World

Adaptations of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House Over the Years

By Corrie Glanville

When Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House was first performed in Copenhagen in 1879, it provoked a storm of protest including the complaint that it was highly unrealistic. After all, no actual woman would ever leave her family! Ibsen was even pressured to write a second ending in which Nora decides to stay for the sake of her children. Ibsen pronounced it a “barbaric outrage” and insisted the second version only be used when absolutely necessary.

Since its premiere, A Doll’s House has continued to be a repertory favorite in the U.S. and abroad for over a century. While Mabou Mines has brought a fascinating twist to Nora’s story, it is just one of many productions in recent years that have put their stamp on Ibsen’s feminist heroine.

Nora on Broadway

I was fortunate enough to see the British actress Janet McTeer inthe remarkable Mary Stuart on Broadway in 2009 and she was a revelation; McTeer is a towering, deep-voiced actress of unusual power on stage. It is difficult to imagine her as the fragile Nora Helmer and yet McTeer’s performance in the 1997 production of A Doll’s House at the Belasco Theatre, which won her both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Actress, is considered by many to be the definitive portrayal of the last 20 years. With a translation by Frank McGuiness, the play came fully alive in a way that made the The New York Times’ Ben Brantley exclaim: “It doesn’t happen that often and when it does, you sit there, open-mouthed, grateful, admiring and shaken, and think ‘This is why I love the theatre.’”

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