With Valentine’s Day expressing love between lovers and the memorable V-Day celebrating women’s rights and an end to sexual violence, it seems natural to continue the search into what makes a relationship. Ensemble Theatre Company proceeds with this search in its latest production of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”

“A Doll’s House” demands that the audience take a serious look at the role of women in society. As the name suggests, many are viewed like dolls to be played with and manipulated. Ibsen’s play was written in 1879 and is considered one of the forerunning pieces of the feminist movement in literature and art. The play follows a “normal” late-19th-century couple, Nora (Karen Stapleton) and Torvald (Doug Tompos), at Christmas during their eighth year of marriage. On the surface, the couple are as happy as can be, calling each other pet names such as “lark” and “squirrel,” fretting about the cute trials of life. But over the course of the next few days, Nora reveals her secret money loan, and we discover that she forged her father’s signature on the loan papers. Although she has kept up payments to Krogstad (Jonathan Voyce), through a series of events Krogstad threatens to reveal the forgery to Torvald unless Krogstad can keep his position at the bank that Torvald is now managing. When Torvald learns of the forgery, he explodes, threatening Nora with an end to happiness, a removal of the children for fear she is poisoning them and a number of other insults. But when the danger is cleared a moment later, he recants his earlier statements and declares his love for his “songbird” wife. It is then that Nora’s eyes are opened, and she sees the fa*ade of a marriage she is living in.

“A Doll’s House” was masterfully performed, with the dreadful paradox that I hated and feared some of the characters so much that I knew it was an amazing performance. The chemistry between Nora and Torvald was so believable that it was as though you were intruding on an actual couple experiencing problems and not two actors pretending. The play was full of emotional drama pushed to the brink, but not overdone. While the written words of the play are extremely powerful, only by seeing it in person with real people does the full effect occur. This play is meant to be seen, not read, and this company does an outstanding portrayal.

“A Doll’s House” runs through March 11, Tuesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St. $20-$30 general; discounts available to students, seniors and groups of 10 or more. For tickets and information, call 962-8606.