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Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)   
The Doll’s House Project:
   Ibsen Is Dead

Written by Calamity West  
Directed by James Yost
at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru June 8 |  tickets: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read review



Riff on classic is nothing but dull


Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)


Interrobang Theatre Project presents


The Doll’s House Project: Ibsen is Dead

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Calamity West loathes A Doll’s House and she wants everyone to know it. According to a program note from James Yost, director of West’s latest play The Doll’s House Project: Ibsen is Dead, West “hates this f*cking play” and wonders “why do all these people keep showing up at their house with information?” I can certainly understand disliking a classic work of literature. I myself can’t stand Catcher in the Rye. However, snark does not a solid show make. The terribly-titled (though true: playwright Henrik Ibsen is indeed no longer living) Doll’s House Project is an overly long, clichéd work that proves West not only hates Ibsen’s then-groundbreaking script, but the character she has created as well.

Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)
Yost’s program note also states that West chose not to directly adapt A Doll’s House, instead “embrac[ing] the aspects of the original that resonated with her – a blackmailer, a domestic situation that can come undone by the truth, an old friend who needs help, a devoted doctor, and a decision between leaving or staying.” As in the original, the husband and wife are named Nora and Torvald, and there is a loyal doctor involved, but the setting is Manhattan in 1989. Specifically, November 1, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell. Amid the news coverage of this historic event, the walls of a privileged couple are about to come tumbling down as well. After her stockbroker husband Torvald (Matthew David Gellin) leaves for work, shopaholic Nora (Jenifer Henry Starewich) reluctantly hosts Christine (Stella Martin) in the couple’s posh apartment. It’s quickly established that Christine is from Nora’s past, Christine has just been dumped and kicked out by her politician boyfriend, and Christine needs money and wants Nora to provide it. As the day and night wear on, punctuated by more news reports and visits from Nora’s best friend the Doctor (Adam Soule), drama and complications unfold.

After sitting through 100 intermission-less minutes, I thought to myself “If I never see another play about people arguing in an apartment, it will be too soon.” Yes, dysfunctional characters in a claustrophobic setting can result in a compelling script – but it’s very difficult to write and act. Too often the dialog get repetitive, the actors screechy and the revelations tired. In The Doll’s House Project, I witnessed all three. Though Yost argues that Ibsen’s original play is dated and unrelatable (though really, does every single classic play have to be relevant and timely for 2014?), at least I don’t end up yawning and hating every character every time I read or see it. I’m not even sure why the whole Doll’s House angle was especially necessary: except for character names, this new riff bears little to no resemblance.

Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)

There are some redeeming elements at play, namely Mike Mroch’s stellar set design. The apartment where the entire play takes place is the epitome of late-80’s decadence, bankrolled by a smarmy former attorney turned professional moneymaker, decorated by a spoiled wife, and other than a couple of pictures, free of young children (Nora and Torvald’s two daughters are away at boarding school in Maine). The white walls and floors are splattered with gray and black paint, complementing the cube-like black leather sofa and armchair. There’s glass and silver aplenty, creating a “modern” look that would very quickly date itself (but who cares when one has an unlimited decorating budget?). Costume designer Noël Huntzinger also did her homework, and it’s especially evident through Nora’s carefully scooped-back and sprayed hair (I had a similar style in my grade school class picture from 1989).

Despite characters that are mostly stereotypes, the four-person cast makes The Doll’s House Project almost worth the time. Gellin makes an admirable late-80’s sociopath, and Soule is perfectly suited to the nebbish, needy trust-fund baby who isn’t a real doctor. Martin channels equal parts anger and empathy as the conniving Christine. And aside from a climactic moment that rings false, Starewich’s blank china-doll face and complex emotions keep Nora a constantly fascinating individual.

The collapse of carefully constructed facades aligning with the collapse of the Berlin Wall – set in the most carefully constructed of societies – could have made for excellent conflict. Unfortunately, The Doll’s House Project: Ibsen Is Dead has a foundation of anger, which seems to overwhelm any hope of real connection on the audience’s part. There’s nothing wrong with agit-prop enthusiasm, but it must be carefully dealt with, otherwise (as in the case of West’s script), if the theater-goers have checked out, it’s just an uninteresting mess.


Rating: ★★



The Doll’s House Project: Ibsen Is Dead continues through June 8th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission)

Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)

Photos by Emily Schwartz




Matthew David Gellin (Torvald), Stella Martin (Christine), Adam Soule (Doctor), Jenifer Henry Starewich (Nora), Logan Hulick (u/s Doctor)

behind the scenes

James Yost (director), Mike Mroch (scenic design), Noël Huntzinger (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design, production manager), Christopher Kriz (sound designer), Julia Rohed (stage manager), Christopher Aaron Knarr (assistant stage manager), Bobby Kennedy (dramaturg), Justin Snyder (technical director), Angela Campos (props design), Emily Schwartz (photos)

Review: The Doll’s House Project – Ibsen Is Dead (Interrobang Theatre Project)


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