The Quaker Campus

Whittier College's A Doll's House

The Quaker Campus

Alex Cory-Wright

Extravagantly sized iced coffees rattle inside trembling arms, their owners eager to get back to work. The ice cubes clatter as the drinks’ impossibly rich hues scream, “I HAVEN’T SLEPT IN WEEKS.” It should be a challenge, opening the double doors with hands and minds so full. However the ease at which these two caffeine-fuelled crew members swing the hinges wide and glide through tells me that this feat is nothing compared to the day-to-day marathon that is theater. Upon entering through those same double doors, the electricity of backstage life saturates the air. More and more cast and crew flood the narrow hallway and dressing rooms, greeting each other with warm embraces and giddy smiles.

There is no doubting the depth of love for theater backstage at Whittier Colleges’ Ruth B. Shannon Centre for the Performing Arts. Although putting on a play involves mastering the art of illusion, the love itself rings so true that such a passion has more to do with authenticity than with performance.

A click of hurried heels rush past as the fully-costumed female lead, senior Lauren Vau, approaches the show’s stage manager, senior Nora Roeder. April 18 is the first dress rehearsal for the College’s production of Dollhouse, a contemporary adaptation of the 19th Century Danish Classic A Doll’s House, which was adapted by the distinguished Ohio-born playwright Theresa Rebeck. Roeder looks Vau up and down, a preened and proper doll of a housewife head-to-toe, her eyes glistening ever wider as her smile grows ever brighter. “You look amazing Lauren! So good!” said Roeder.

Inside the dressing rooms, painstakingly prepared and meticulously labeled clothes hang readily awaiting their stars. Old school Hollywood bulb-framed mirrors line the dressing room, the many reflections project the illusion of an enormous cast, however, this couldn’t be further form the truth. In reality, Dollhouse has an intimate cast of eight (two of which are the play director’s own young children), certainly a choice of quality over quantity.

Sophomore Cristian Perez, who works in costume and makeup, enters exuberantly through the door with a delivery for the male lead senior Collin McDowell. “Here are your, like, seven shoes!!!” he screams as he passes him three. During those magical hours just before showtime, the line separating stage and back-stage seems not only blurred but irrelevant. When all focus is on bringing an imagined reality to life, the practical reality of the process itself, in turn, becomes the show.

On top of the raucous of conversations heard in every room is another layer of noise, which provide a strange meta-theatrical undertone to the backstage events. This layer comes from the speakers that hang above the heads of cast and crew in every room, a vast intercom system that picks up and communicates to backstage participants all the action from onstage. It’s a mix of the show’s music and snippets of last-minute onstage demands, interspersed occasionally with production-wide time calls. All of this highlighted by a background of buzzing white noise that further propels the atmosphere into an ethereal space that lives somewhere between truth and lies.

“Five minutes to warm up,” the intercom blares as the cast mobilizes in response, forming a circle on stage. In support of each other, the cast plays games, stretches, and talks in tongue twisters together.

“A big blue bucket of blueberries. A bigblue bucketof blueberries .Abigbluebucketofblueberries.” As their speed increases and the spaces between each word audibly shrink, so does any space between the cast. Soon, their synchronization process nears completion as they share bigger and bigger smiles. Professor of Theatre and Director Katie Liddicoat sits proudly by the cast, her heavily annotated workbook open on her lap. Not only is Liddicoat the play’s director, she is also married to Professor of Theater Gil Gonzales and a veteran director for Whittier College productions at the Shannon Center.

After the warm up is over, Liddicoat ends with a small speech that reaffirms and concludes the importance of exercising teamwork. “Everything you do is for the other person. You’re in it together. Go team!” The cast responds with a heartwarming and exhilarated chorus of “Yeah!” The house lights go down and the show begins.

Dollhouse is an understated play that deals with the complexity of marriage and friendship. The contemporary adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, masterfully navigates many topics from big universal issues such as  gender politics to personal ones such as self discovery. Ibsen’s play has been updated  in order to make it more relatable.

By replacing the Norwegian 19th century setting of ballgowns and stiff collars with a suburban modern home and shiny Nordstrom shopping bags, we feel the context more immediately. Furthermore, the strict historical roles of wife and husband plaguing 19th century Norway have also been updated to represent the trickier and more confusing gender expectations of today. Indeed, Dollhouse, as an adaptation, is grounded in today’s harsh reality. No character is merely good or bad at navigating modern societal norms and through their nuanced individual development, we as an audience find the true power of this play.

Dollhouse is superficially a story about crime, money and mortality. However if you invest the time in experiencing the subtlety of its narrative evolution, you’ll see it’s about so much more.

Although Whittier College’s Theatre Department resides right across the street from the rest of campus, it really exists a world away, deep in the land of creativity and imagination. Working longer hours and tighter deadlines than most students, it rarely fails to gift us quality productions. Fueled by members of our own campus community, they tirelessly work away their free time in order to create a couple of magical hours for us each season.

So don’t let their hard work go to waste. Let them know how much you appreciate their dedication and catch a superb slice of entertainment. Dollhouse debuts at the Shannon Center’s studio theater on Thursday April 21 at 7:30 p.m. and runs everyday at the same time until Saturday, with a last chance matinee showing on Sunday at 2 p.m. So go, run, buy your tickets at the Ruth B. Shannon Center box office before they sell out.