Ryan Fallon | Contributor
The Department of Fine Arts’ production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House premiered before a sizeable crowd at the Walter K. Gordon Theater on Friday, April 13th. With Kenneth Elliott, a R-C Professor of Theater, at the helm, the first performance of 2012 proved to be an enlightening and compelling affair. Powerful performances delivered by Sean Lynch (Class of 2014) and Ashley Thornton (Class of 2012) and a robust supporting cast set a promising tone of things to come in Rutgers-Camden’s theatrical community in the forthcoming months.
Handling Henrik Ibsen’s most controversial work is often considered a difficult venture in the world of theater, but through Elliott’s vision, in concert with a brilliantly dynamic cast and production staff, the theater department showed to be more than capable of delivering the Norwegian playwright’s critique of gender roles, as well as the imprisoning nature of marriage, in a skillful and accomplished manner.
A Doll’s House’s backdrop had been masterfully crafted by the production’s stage staff, led by set designer James Mobley, as it captivated the alluring confines of a broken Norwegian household with great attention to detail, featuring lavish 19th Century furnishings. As such, the presentation’s décor shed light on the very nature of the Helmers’ turbulent marriage, a feigned haven of love slowly deconstructed for what it truly stood as: a hollow sham of deceit and contempt veiled under the false pretenses of marriage vows.
One particularly outstanding part of the production’s aesthetics included the presence of a Hardanger fiddle to coincide with the ensemble. Suiting the performance perfectly as a staple of Norway’s folk music, the Hardanger fiddle embodied the essence of A Doll’s House, a haunting and brooding ode to the repressive nature of tradition. The production staff bolstered the brilliant display forged by the cast with a moving rendering of Ibsen’s depiction of a Norwegian homestead.
The cast displayed tremendous theatrical flair, and the performances delivered by Lynch, Thornton and company were an immensely compelling part of the production. Sean Lynch’s vivid, intense portrayal of Torvald Helmer, a desperate man struggling to garner absolute control over his family, demonstrated that the sophomore has tremendous potential in the field of theater. Having performed in Who Invited Jesus? at Philadelphia’s Shubin Theater, in addition to prior productions with Camden’s Department of Fine Arts, Lynch will continue to flourish with more leading roles in the near future. Likewise, Ashley Thornton’s debut in a leading role as Nora Helmer, a weary housewife beleaguered by scandal and the burdens of marriage, saw the senior rise to the occasion as she put on a performance deserving of nothing but praise. As Nora, Thornton flaunted her extensive talent with the execution of a manic frenzy of a tarantella that was particularly alluring.
Of course, Lynch and Thornton’s own brilliance could not downplay a stellar supporting cast, consisting of Cristina Chillem (Class of 2012), Kyle Jakubowski (Class of 2005), and Jake Hufner (Class of 2013). Their presence allowed for A Doll’s House to be supported by a cast of seasoned veterans, as they showcased extensive experience in theatrical performance. Taking on the role of Torvald Helmer’s rival, Nils Krogstad, Hufner particularly impressed in a cold and calculating exhibition.
A Doll’s Houseeven featured the talents of two budding young stars to play the Helmer children, Demetrio Lukaitis and Aron Arnarson O’Neill, emerging from the Lucky Nickel Theatre Co. and the Haddonfield Plays and Players Stage Kidz Camp, respectively. Other performers, by the likes of Diana Maddison (Class of 2015), Sean Quinn (Class of 2014), and Tom Milicia (Class of 2013) proved to be indispensable in their roles as well.
The social commentary handled by the cast’s actions and expressions in A Doll House may have been the most profound part of the production. Kenneth Elliott writes in his remarks, included in the play’s program, that: “In our own sophisticated and cynical age, it is easy to regard A Doll’s House as a quaint period piece.” As Henrik Ibsen’s most controversial work, the famous ending is still studied by literary scholars and theater experts alike. Indeed, the message conveyed as the Helmer family disintegrates is a message that stretches well into the 21stCentury, outlining what it truly means to be human.
The Department of Fine Arts’ 2012 debut with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a sign of things to come for Rutgers-Camden’s theatrical program. With plenty of talent at their disposal, the faculty can be more than confident that the program will continue to produce with even more thought-provoking and alluring acts, in the same exact caliber as what was seen at the Gordon Theater on April 13th.
The four remaining shows of A Doll’s House are as follows: Thursday, April 19th at 5pm, Friday, April 20th and Saturday April 21st at 8pm, and lastly, Sunday, April 22nd at 2pm. Show times are also listed at http://finearts.camden.rutgers.edu/theater_home.php.