A rehearsal of the lost scene of the Ibsen play. The Actor-Director points out to the actress playing Nora that she must put herself in the place of a woman in 1879 knowing only what she could have known then. After she slams the door, there is a burst of music strange lighting and four dance figures enter: a man and three phases of a woman's life - young, in her prime and old. They appear from time to time during the show. The door disappears revealing Nora in 1879 costume, transported back to that time. She sings of her determination to find out about the world and to leave behind the "bag of tricks" she has had to use to get along as a woman. All through the show, the Actors, who also play many different parts in the story, appear to comment on her actions.
Alone and without money, Nora meets a young violinist, Otto - who assumes she is "that kind of woman" - and is forced to fall back on her flirting and lying in order to get money for the fare (which he gives her).
Disappointed in herself and frightened, she arrives in Christiania where she finally gets a menial job in a cafe. Nora writes to her children to try to explain to them why she had to leave, and that she will come back and teach them all she has learned. At Cafe Europa, four well-dressed men are celebrating NewYear's Eve, putting off going home to their wives: Dr. Berg, Gustafson, and two others who will feature strongly in Nora's life - Eric Didrickson, wealthy owner of shipping lines and fish canneries, and Johan Blecker, a lawyer and an enlightened man for his or any time. They are drunk and singing. During this, Nora, as a scullery maid, sees Johan in the midst of the men's childish drinking ritual, on his knees, hands tied behind his back. Later, he stays to talk to her further, intrigued by her questioning the men about the law and other subjects, finding her unusual and interesting.
Otto, the young violinist from the train, is working at the café and tries to talk to Nora again, but Hamsun, the owner, sends him off and unsubtly propositions Nora. When she refuses, she loses her job. Otto is waiting for her outside on the street. He is friendly and sympathetic and says he will try to get her a job backstage at the opera. He invites her to his rooming house for a holiday drink, assuring her that all will be proper as they will visit in the downstairs parlour. Nora, agitated at seeing o child and his parents celebrating New Years Eve in the parlour comes up to Otto's room. They shyly toast each other (she has a vision of Torvald, when they were first married, being charming and full of love in a New Years toast). Otto tells her he is a composer working on an epic folklore opera to make Wagner shake in his slippers: "Loki and Boldur." Nora is moved by the idea of the young, idealistic artist who finds it "such a burden being a man."
She has another memory of Torvald, the middle-class tyrant patronising his "doll-wife" and condescendingly doling out household money. Otto brings her bock to the moment andasks her to stay with him. Feeling that he is a different kind of man, offering her "equal partnership in life." she agrees to stay and is soon working backstage at the opera house in the wardrobe department. She describes Otto's opera to the star. Astrid Klemnacht. who summarily sends her out. In the corridor. Nora runs into Johan Blecker who remembers her from New Year's Eve at the café. He tells her he will speak to Madame Klemnacht about "Loki and Boldur."
Astrid has assembled a group of people, including Johan and Eric Didrickson (her lover), to hear the opera. She is irritable, but by the time the audition is over (Otto, carried away, has sung part of the soprano role) she has fallen for both the opera and for him. Nora sits nervously at one side of the stage while Johan watches her from the other. At some point in the opera the entire stage freezes in a tableau, lights dimmed, except for a light on Nora, and Johan is further impressed at how different she is. At the end of his song, the stage comes to life and the opera resumes to its climactic finish. Nora tells Johan that Otto will need a subsidy to be able to finish his work. Astrid, overhearing this and realising the relationship between Otto and Nora, suddenly loses interest and dismisses everyone. Otto has turned on Nora, furiously blaming her for ruining his chances.
Astrid, in a change of mind. sends Otto a note and some money, saying she will sponsor him. When Otto, overjoyed, forgives Nora. calling her "a silly little goose," she realises he in no way thought of her as an "equal partner," sees the resemblance between this and the wayTorvald treated her, and knows she must
leave and learn nor to depend on anyone but herself. Outside again in the limbo of the city, she sings Learn to Be Lonely. She realises she must hove an education - "knowledge gives you power" - and wants to try the University.
Nora, who's had to take any job to stay alive, is working in a fish canning factory owned by Mr. Didrickson. She and other girls are seated at a long table cutting and canning fish. In these dismal surroundings, with long hours, dirt and freezing cold, Nora. has somehow been reading, educating and finding herself. She suddenly realises that conditions are intolerable and something must be done about them and calls on the women to assert themselves as human beings.
After being arrested for the third time for demonstrating and making speeches, Nora, in jail, writes to her children what she has learned about inequality and the law. Johan, whom she has contacted, arrives, and is appalled that she is in jail. He quickly has her freed. When she tells him that someday she will meet this Mr. Didrickson and make him see the suffering he has caused. Johan tells her they have already met and that Otto's opera is being produced through Eric's patronage, starring Astrid. The opera is opening that very night and Johan invites her to go to it with him and sit in Didrickson's box where she can confront him.
When Eric enters, Johan presents Nora, looking resplendent and beautiful in full evening regalia he stands back amused and admiringly to enjoy the encounter. Eric is immediately taken with her, and is astonished but unruffled when he learns she had been one of his working girls. She denounces him for his cruelty, contempt for the workers and for women, and demands that he make changes. Johan applauds. Eric asks for a few minutes with her privately and Johan reluctantly leaves. Eric says he will meet all her demands if she will come home with him at once. Nora, enflamed by his affrontery, amazes him by saying "yes." She is unexpectedly attracted to him physically. The terms of their bargain are arranged during a song of seduction, and as the act ends, the opera house has disappeared and Nora is about to enter Eric's door, and another phase of her life.
Six months later, Nora, in bed, is luxuriating in her newfound, erotic experience. She is not only caught up in Eric's spell, but at the some time has not given up her education, and is learning about money and power. She also accomplishes further reforms at the cannery. Eric has invited several powerful political and financial figures for billiards, cards, and supper, using Nora as his stunning hostess, the only woman in the room. When Johan enters, we realise that she has been pawning Eric's jewelry, and that Johan, (since as a woman she could not do this herself) has been investing it for her on the Exchange, so that she now has some money of her own. Otto, dropped by Astrid when the opera failed, has been hired by Eric as a butler. Johan, now realises that he is hopelessly in love with her and has lost her to Eric. All three men watch her as
she plays cards with a group of guests.
Johan leaves in a frustrated rage and Nora, having won at cards, is carried away by a giddy feeling of all out confidence, and a sense of power she feels she has learned from men. She knows that in the long run what power is, "having been born a man". The following morning, having incurred Eric's displeasure the night before by her outburst, she discovers that another woman has spent the night with him in that very house. She is Jacqueline Le Beau, who works in the perfume shop where Eric had been buying Nora perfume. Nora, enraged, attacks Eric, weeping and sinking to the floor clinging to him in object degradation. He points out to her that the night before she herself had satirically suggested that she was just a "possession" of his, but that actually that is all she is.
This is a moment of total reawakening for her, and she knows the time has come to leave. She is not sure exactly where she will go, but she knows, in self disgust "where she has been." She asks him to touch her once more and when he does, she realises to her relief that she is "cured." Once again she is alone in the limbo of the city but this time she has the independence that money can give, and she can act like a man.
She writes to her children how she hates having lost her way, and discovering dishonest and selfish traits in herself. She also tells them that to "control your own life you have got to have means". She contacts Johan who mistakenly misinterprets her note as an expression of love for him and sets up a meeting with her of a fashionable café. To Johan's dismay, also present is Jacqueline, with whom Nora plans to start a perfume business. As always, being a woman, she cannot own it in her name and needs his signature.
The business flourishes, but not until Nora almost loses Johan, who she has always taken for granted. She realises her true feeling of love for him and her appreciation that he is an anomaly - totally different in his relationship to her from all other men. She becomes a prosperous independent woman and she and Johan are happy living together, but when he suggests marriage, she knows that cannot be because she would then forfeit the right to her children forever.
She is determined to go to see them, to have an open dialogue with Torvald, to tell him what she has learned and to let him know that she now understands that we all … men and women alike … behave the way we are taught. She leaves Johan feeling that all may not be over between them, but that they must wait and see. Torvald enters with the children who are shyly reunited with their mother. Nora learns that Torvald must have changed too, because he has read them her letters, not turning them against her.
In the last song, Nora fervently asks that they talk openly to each other, as in the past they never did … and as all men and women should; each must learn to stand alone. He resists till the end, but finally says, "sit down Nora, we must talk" As they sit face to face across the table, everything but the table and chairs and the door, luminously lit, disappear, and the curtain falls.