Glenbard West puts '50s spin on Ibsen's 'A Doll's House'

  • Nora Helmer (Taylor Gottsman, center) hosts her childhood friend, Kristine (Devon Kelleher) and her best friend, Dr. Rank (Cooper Garland, left), on Christmas Eve during Glenbard West's "A Doll's House."

    Nora Helmer (Taylor Gottsman, center) hosts her childhood friend, Kristine (Devon Kelleher) and her best friend, Dr. Rank (Cooper Garland, left), on Christmas Eve during Glenbard West's "A Doll's House." Courtesy of Glenbard West Theatre

  • Glenbard West Theatre has moved the setting of its production of Ibsen's "A Doll's House" from the 19th century to the 1950s. Pictured during rehearsal are Taylor Gottsman as Nora Helmer; Henry King, left, as Torvald Helmer; and Cooper Garland as Dr. Rank.

    Glenbard West Theatre has moved the setting of its production of Ibsen's "A Doll's House" from the 19th century to the 1950s. Pictured during rehearsal are Taylor Gottsman as Nora Helmer; Henry King, left, as Torvald Helmer; and Cooper Garland as Dr. Rank. Courtesy of Glenbard West Theatre

 
 
Posted1/25/2022 1:24 PM

For its winter drama, Glenbard West Theatre is putting on "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen from Jan. 27-29.

The Daily Herald caught up with director Jacob Kelleher, a Glenbard West Theatre alum, to find out more about the production.

 

Kelleher is assisted by technical director Bruce Medic and business director Michael Fox. Student leaders include student director Devon Kelleher, student business director Katie Rath, student technical directors Meghan Andres and Jackie Houghtaling, and stage manager Kira Campagna.

See below for Kelleher's answers to some questions.

Q. Why did you choose "A Doll's House?"

A. I chose "A Doll's House" for a few reasons. One of the most important was the education opportunities it offers the students.

"A Doll's House" is written by Henrik Ibsen. I wanted to give Glenbard West students a chance to work with one of Ibsen's pieces and really do an in-depth study of his work.

"A Doll's House," perhaps his most famous work, was an obvious choice. Additionally, "A Doll's House," at its core, communicates a timeless and critically important message about female equality.

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Q. For those who aren't familiar, please describe the plot.

A. The plot centers around Nora and her journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Nora is a mother of three young children and a wife to Torvald. On the outside, they appear to have a very happy, stereotypical marriage, but, as the play unfolds, we begin to understand Nora is more so trapped in her role as a doting housewife than living it by choice. When a mysterious visitor from Nora's past arrives at the family home, secrets from Nora's past begin to unravel and she is forced to re-examine the role she has been forced into both in her home and in society.

Set in the 1950s, our production of "A Doll's House" provides a beautiful, sophisticated glimpse into the 72-hour period that changes Nora's life forever.

Nora Helmer (Taylor Gottsman, left) is surprised by a visit from Nils Krogstad (Sean Carlin, right) during rehearsal for "A Doll's House," Glenbard West Theatre's winter production on Jan. 27-29.
Nora Helmer (Taylor Gottsman, left) is surprised by a visit from Nils Krogstad (Sean Carlin, right) during rehearsal for "A Doll's House," Glenbard West Theatre's winter production on Jan. 27-29. - Courtesy of Glenbard West Theatre

Q. How many students are involved with the production?

A. There are about 60 students total involved in our production. Our technical crew (set construction, painting, costumes, lights, sound, props and more) is composed of about 25 students for this show. Meanwhile our business crew (publicity, tickets, front of house, programs, concessions, and more) is also comprised of about 25 students. The cast of the show consists of nine students, and we have five phenomenal students who are serving as student leaders in varying capacities across the production.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q. How does your play differ from the original?

A. The number one way in which our play differs from the original is that it is set in the 1950s. Henrik Ibsen originally published "A Doll's House" in 1879, so the original script pictures the characters in a Victorian era setting.

I wanted to give that setting a bit of an update. I wanted to set the piece in a more contemporary time that would be more easily digestible for audiences and students alike. The parallels between the strong feminist themes of "A Doll's House" and the real life feminist debates playing out in 1950s society made that decade on obvious choice for the setting.

Nils Krogstad (Sean Carlin, right) gives Nora (Taylor Gottsman) a concerning ultimatum during rehearsal for Glenbard West Theatre's upcoming production of "A Doll's House" on Jan. 27-29.
Nils Krogstad (Sean Carlin, right) gives Nora (Taylor Gottsman) a concerning ultimatum during rehearsal for Glenbard West Theatre's upcoming production of "A Doll's House" on Jan. 27-29. - Courtesy of Glenbard West Theatre

Q. What was the most challenging aspect?

A. The most challenging aspect in producing the play was the text itself. This play is remarkably sophisticated and extraordinarily detailed. It is a very challenging work for high schoolers, but something I felt strongly about exposing the students to and working with them to achieve. The actors and I have spent a lot of time dissecting the minutia of the play to really do the piece justice and bring the characters to life in an honest and engaging way.

Q. What did you find most rewarding?

A. The most challenging part of the piece was the text itself. As a result, the most rewarding part of the process has been seeing the students master the text.

The students have done an extraordinarily impressive job with this material. They have worked hard to understand the characters, their motivations, and the complex relationships between them. This is a very challenging piece and it has been so fulfilling to see the students really master something that challenging.

Something else that is particularly rewarding for me, personally, is the opportunity to direct at Glenbard West. As a graduate from the Class of 2017, I have been so honored to be able to return to Glenbard West Theatre in a new capacity. I have missed Glenbard West Theatre, and getting to be a part of it again has been incredibly exciting.

Nora (played by Taylor Gottsman, left) and Torvald (Henry King, center) return from a Christmas party with their dear friend, Dr. Rank (Cooper Garland) during rehearsal for Glenbard West's production of Ibsen's "A Doll House" on Jan. 27-29.
Nora (played by Taylor Gottsman, left) and Torvald (Henry King, center) return from a Christmas party with their dear friend, Dr. Rank (Cooper Garland) during rehearsal for Glenbard West's production of Ibsen's "A Doll House" on Jan. 27-29. - Courtesy of Glenbard West Theatre

Q. What were some of the best moments in putting this production together?

A. So many moments have been standout moments for me. One that comes to mind was the first day we got to see the actors in costume.

Our costume designer, Susan Hajny, did an absolutely gorgeous job with bringing the 1950s to life. The first day with costumes really brought new life to the piece for all of us. I would also say that working with the cast in early rehearsals to dissect the play was particularly exciting. We had several exciting conversations about the play and the characters and what small details in the script meant in the larger context of the work.

I was impressed with the dedication of the students to the piece in those early rehearsals.

Q. What do you think audiences will enjoy most about this play?

A. I think audiences will most enjoy the attention to detail that all the students have put into their work on the show.

On the technical side, our students have gone above and beyond in creating a really detailed, lifelike set, and atmosphere that brings the piece to life. The same can be said about the costumes certainly.

As for the actors, they, too, have put in extra effort to bring their characters to life in a remarkably thorough and detailed fashion. The subtleties they have been able to achieve as teenagers is incredibly impressive.

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