Whether Henrik Ibsen intended A Doll's House to be a proto-feminist work remains a topic for literary debate. But there's no question that the tense and revelatory story is ultimately one of Nora Helmer's self-awakening. Her discoveries, and the bold break she makes with her previous acquiescence, won't stir an audience the way they did more than 130 years ago. But theater-goers can still be engrossed in Nora's overdue metamorphosis.
At The Old Globe, Kirsten Brandt directs a cogent production that's faithful to Ibsen's sociopolitical commentary and at the same time indulgent of the play's rich characters. Credit, too, Anne- Charlotte Hanes Harvey, with whom Brandt created this adaptation for the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage. In their hands, A Doll's House is far from a period piece.
As Nora, Gretchen Hall is prepossessing and very much in the buoyancy of a woman who, at the outset, believes that life is as good as it can get. She's also agile and athletic when called for, and it's mesmerizing to watch her Nora journey from near-flightiness to desperation to fierce resolve. Hall's real-life husband, Fred Arsenault, makes Torvald Helmer proud and, in the end, clueless, without being an outright antagonist (though it's hard to feel any sympathy for Torvald, who reaps what he sows). Richard Baird, a familiar presence on the San Diego theater scene, also avoids mere villainy as Krogstad, the discarded employee at Torvald's bank who had loaned Nora money and is subsequently blackmailing her in an effort to regain his post. Admiring of both Torvald (his best friend) and Nora (whom he has admired deeply, from afar) is the dying Dr. Rank, vividly portrayed here by Jack Koenig, as both hapless and touching. The gentle sound of breaking waves, intermittent in this production, heightens the atmosphere of wintertime in Norway and is also a reminder of the constancy of life. The world goes on even as those briefly inhabiting it lust, deceive and connive. In tossing aside her flirtations and abandoning her submission to a man who does not know how to love her, Nora realizes her better self. This Globe staging, ruminative and then finally emphatic, makes Nora's realization ours as well.
A Doll's House runs through April 21 at The Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
Haiti's Children of God: In a staged reading, Haiti's disenfranchised population is personified by a young pregnant woman who must choose between the life of her brother and the future of her country. It'll be performed on April 8 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Oleanna: Playwright David Mamet pits a female college student against her male professor in this tense, two-person play, about power and gender politics, that premiered in the wake of the Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill hubbub in the early 1990s. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it opens April 4 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com Pageant: You pick the winner in a musical comedy about a beauty contest. Opens April 5 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot: A struggling Gulf War vet returns home to his heartsick wife in the California desert in a play that's alternately real and surreal. Opens April 6 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Born Yesterday : A corrupt businessman hires a reporter to tutor his showgirl mistress in the ways of Washington, D.C., and she learns a little too much for his own good. Through April 7 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
The Fox on the Fairway : In what sounds like Caddy Shack lite, a country-club president is in danger of losing a bet when his ace golfer defects to the opposing team and his replacement becomes unhinged over a lost engagement ring. Through April 7 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
The Tempest : Shakespeare's classic comedy, set on a magical island presided over by the iconic Prospero. Through April 7 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
The Psychic : In this comedy, a struggling writer starts giving psychic readings in order to pay the rent and entangles himself in a murder mystery. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through April 13 at The Swedenborgian Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday : A man can't seem to get over the loss of his wife, who accidentally drowned. Now he's talking with her during nighttime beach walks and neglecting his daughter. Through April 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder : In this musical comedy set in Edwardian England, a man in need of treasure to win the love of a woman learns he's a distant heir to a fortune and begins murdering his way to the top of the family food chain. Through April 14 on The Old Globe Theatre's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Grey Gardens : Musical based on a documentary of the same name about Big Edie and Little Edie—Jackie Kennedy Onassis' aunt and cousin—and their descent from an opulent lifestyle. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through April 20 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Accomplice San Diego : A different kind of theater happening—part play, part game—courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls program: Audience members arrive in Little Italy and experience the story as they walk through the neighborhood and respond to clues provided to them. Runs through April 21. Find details at lajollaplayhouse.org.
An Inspector Calls : A detective arrives at the home of a wealthy businessman and politician and grills each member of the family about a young woman's death. Through April 21 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House : Director Kirsten Brandt and translator Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey present a new adaptation of the Norwegian playwright's famed feminist work. Through April 21 in The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest : A convict cons his way into a mental institution to avoid prison and tangles with a domineering nurse. Through April 21 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Assassins : A carnival shooting gallery is the starting point for a musical about nine killers or would-be killers of U.S. presidents. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through April 28 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler : This comedy shows us the fate of Hedda Gabler and other literary figures after we last left them. Through April 28 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Damien : In a one-actor production, Robert Smyth reprises his role as a Belgian priest who ministered to people suffering from leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Through May 5 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net