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One-act play subsections set Jan. 25: Detroit Lakes cast to present Ibsen's 'A Doll's House'

Blake McAllister and Madison Hagen as Torvald and Nora Helmer in a scene from 'A Doll's House,' which is Detroit Lakes High School's entry in this year's MSHSL one-act play competition. The subsection competition will take place on Thursday, Jan. 25 at Detroit Lakes Middle School's George Simson Auditorium, starting at 4 p.m. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 2
Detroit Lakes High School's Madison Hagen, as Nora Helmer, and Natalie Eidenschink, as Kristine Linde, in a scene from "A Doll's House," which is Detroit Lakes' entry in this year's one-act play competition. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 2

For the past several years, the cast of the Detroit Lakes High School one-act play has staged a local performance or two for the general public in advance of their trip to the Minnesota State High School League's One-Act Play Subsection 8AA North competition.

This year, however, their first performance of director Nikki Caulfield's 35-minute adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" will take place at the subsection tournament — which is being held at the Detroit Lakes Middle School.

"We're hosting it this year," says Caulfield, "and we want people to come watch the actual competition, which is why we're not doing a public preview."

There will be a second performance of "A Doll's House" in the George Simson Auditorium at DLMS, however, on Friday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. — with an almost totally different cast.

"We have a cast of five for the competition, with four understudies," Caulfield says. "We did a full secondary cast because every role in this play is so significant, and with January being cold and flu season, if one person gets sick we'd be in big trouble without someone totally ready to step in. We're doing the second performance on Friday with the understudies because I don't think it's fair to have them do all that work and then not get to perform."

Both the subsection performance on Jan. 25 and the secondary cast encore on Jan. 26 are free and open to the public, Caulfield said.

But one bonus of coming to the Jan. 25 subsection competition is that the audience also gets to see performances from the Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Moorhead, Little Falls and Alexandria casts.

"It's really cool to see what the other high schools are doing, and each performance is just 35 minutes long," Caulfield said. "You can come and watch as many performances as you like — the only restriction is that you can't enter the auditorium mid-performance, as this is a competition. Shows start every 50 minutes, until everyone has performed. Awards are at approximately 9:45 p.m.

"Yep, it's a late night," she added, noting that the Detroit Lakes cast is slated to take the stage at about 6:40 p.m. that Thursday — though they won't be announced as such, she cautioned.

"There are no school names used, just the names of the plays they're performing," she added. "That's for the judging, to ensure impartiality."

No matter whether the main or secondary cast members end up taking the stage that night, Caulfield said, she has no worries that they will be ready, as they have been "switching up" who's playing the roles in some of the rehearsal scenes to ensure that both the main and secondary actors know their roles and are comfortable playing against each other.

"We're going to kill it (in competition) this year, I can just feel it," said DLHS junior Natalie Eidenschink, who plays Kristine Linde in the secondary cast. "This is my third year (competing in one-act). I ended up joining my freshman year because Isaiah (McKenzie, who plays Nils Krogstad in the primary cast) found me in the hallway one day and said I should do this with him. It ended up being one of the best experience of high school for me."

Eidenschink said she is particularly enjoying the role of Kristine because she is stepping out of her comfort zone a little.

"I'm not used to being the love interest," she said. "I'm usually playing the villain. It's fun to be doted on for once. I also really enjoy being in one act. It's nice to be one of a team, and Nikki is an awesome director. One act wouldn't be the same without her."

McKenzie, who is also in his third year of one-act, said he joined as a sophomore after some of his friends, who had done the competition in their freshman year, encouraged him to try it.

He added that he is enjoying the role of Nils Krogstad, who is a masterful manipulator.

"I really like this character because it's different from anything else I've played," he said. "Krogstad always has the upper hand."

Blake McAllister, a DLHS senior who is taking part in one-act competition for the first time, said he is also relishing the opportunity to play a character who is so at odds with his usual acting style.

"I play Torvald Helmer, who is a very stereotypical, 1800s-style, masculine man," he said. "He's Nora's husband, and he treats her more like his child than a wife. He's very controlling and aggressive, and really doesn't like to be told what to do. He fills a room with confidence, but he's really not a nice man. The goal is to really make everyone hate him, which is a lot different from anything I've played before. I usually do roles that are more fun and lively. This is a lot more of a challenge for me, but it's fun. I actually get to throw some things around the stage."

McAllister, who says he's been performing in plays since he was six years old, is planning to pursue a career in theater and the performing arts.

"I've been so in love with performing, since my very first show, and this is another opportunity to do that," he said. "I don't really like the competitive aspect as much. I'm doing it more for the acting challenge."

Tristan Knopf, who plays Torvald in the secondary cast, is also a senior planning on pursuing a music and theater major in college, at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

"I started with one act my freshman year, and I've been doing it every year since," he said. "I've also done Shakespeare in the Park (which Caulfield also directs) for many years. I was in 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' 'Henry IV (Part One),' and 'Much Ado About Nothing.' Without Nikki, I probably would still be going into the forensic sciences, which is what I wanted to do when I was little. But ever since I first touched the stage in ninth grade, I just fell in love with theater."

Madison Hagen, a senior who plays the part of Nora Helmer in the primary cast, is also taking part in her fourth year of one-act competition.

"I started out doing the lights for 'Little Women' as a freshman," she said. "I was an understudy, and did the lights for the competition. I think theater is a place where everyone can belong. That's what keeps pulling me back into it.

"Nora is an interesting character," she said. "She gets herself into quite a bit of trouble, but is too confident to admit it (at first). She's so used to being babied, to being told, 'I'll take care of you,' but she believes, 'I can take care of myself.'"

Hagen added that, as the name of the play implies, Nora is treated like a doll — first by her father, and then by her husband. "Often times she plays dumb rather than going with her own thoughts and instincts. She's a real challenge to play."

Zofia Polak, who as an exchange student from Poland is also taking part in her first one-act play season, says she also enjoys the challenge of playing Nora as part of the secondary cast.

"I've always liked acting," she said. "I used to do a little of it in Poland, about five years ago, but I had no time for it so I stopped. We don't really have anything extracurriculars in Poland, just lots of classes."

Like Hagen, Polak says Nora is a strong, interesting character. "I enjoy Nora, and how she changes (through the course of the show). She acts kind of dumb in the beginning, but she finally comes to her senses and realizes what her life actually is... she's a doll, and she's no longer satisfied with that."

Caulfield said she chose to take on the challenge of condensing Ibsen's original, three-act play into a 35-minute script because it was "a classic."

"You want to give these kids the best shot you can (at winning the competition)," she said. "These classics... there's a reason they're still around, still being performed today. They're really solid pieces of theater."

'A Doll's House,' Primary Cast

Nora Helmer: Madison Hagen

Torvald Helmer: Blake McAllister

Christine Linde: Alex Swanson

Nils Krogstad: Isaiah McKenzie

Helen: Taylor Johnson

Secondary Cast

Nora Helmer: Zofia Polak

Torvald Helmer: Tristan Knopf

Christine Linde: Natalie Eidenschenk

Nils Krogstad: Anton Biederman

Helen: Taylor Johnson

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454