Battle lines drawn. Cogent argument made. Can everyone be right at the same time? Does it matter in a world full of choices?
Invigorating and decidedly bracing, the Round House production of A Doll’s House, Part 2, written by Lucas Hnath, is a well-recommended theatrical page-turner. It is meant to raise hackles leading to discussions, heated or otherwise, long after each performance goes dark.
Certainly, the opening night Round House audience at the Lansburgh Theatre was ready. They were abuzz with energy. I gleaned from overhearing a number of pre-show conversations that the audience was well versed in Ibsen’s original A Doll’s House (1879) and the famous walk-out from marriage by wife Nora into the great unknown.
Hanth’s inventive A Doll’s House, Part 2, written over 100 years after the original as an imagining of what happened 15 years after Nora’s great exit, is directed by Nicole A. Watson. Watson approaches the show like a very competent and balanced family therapist. She has no finger on the scale with her vision and adroit casting. Waston has a choreographer’s touch with the pacing and visual blocking of the play’s small number of characters. She uses the full Lansgurgh stage to advantage, especially its length. What could have been a physically still, 95-minute, intermission-free work of polemics about gender roles, parenthood, and family is thankfully far from it.
I will assume that Nora’s powerful walk-out as Henrik Ibsen wrote in A Doll’s House is familiar to you. Perhaps like me, you too have wondered, debated or even imagined what happened to Nora after her famous exit? Hanth’s script for A Doll’s House Part 2 is his sophisticated view of what happens after Nora walks out, and only his. For Hanth, the story is still Nora’s. But for Hanth, Nora is not immune to what others say about and to her. In Hanth’s work, no one, not even Nora or those who surround her, comes away unscathed. There are prices to be paid.
The setting (Paige Hathaway scenic designer, Harold F. Burgess, lighting designer) is a bright, high-ceilinged front room in the home of the privileged class. There are few furnishings. Large double doors are at the center. There is knocking at the double doors from someone outside. When no one answers, the knock comes again, a bit louder. There is still no answer. So a third, faster, more insistence knocking. Slowly from stage left, comes Nancy Robinette (as loyal housekeeper Anne Marie) slowly hobbling to the doors. Opening them, she sees someone she has not in 15 years.
It is Nora (Holly Twyford) in stylish attire (Helen Huang, costume designer) reflective of a prosperous woman. In walks Nora, observing the surroundings with true wonderment. Where are her furnishings? Anna Marie responds, “I mean, of course, anything that was yours got thrown out after you left,” “Right,” says Nora. Not long after, the man Nora left, Torvald (Craig Wallace) appears and then the also left behind daughter Emmy (Kathyrn Tkel).
And off the productions goes into Hnath’s conjectures for A Doll’s House Part 2. (Do be aware that while the script is a period piece, it is inflected with well-placed contemporary expletive language to bring the audience into the present as they contemplate what is before them).
Over the journey that is A Doll’s House, Part 2, the characters take turns arguing with one another; sparring with exciting verbal dexterity and a practiced advocate’s skills. As each makes their case for their own personal point of view, issues become quicksand. Nothing is solid as questions are raised. A main issue: would it have been braver if Nora had stayed to try to work through things?
Holly Twyford dazzles as Nora. Not just with big moments delivering her views about matrimony, parenthood and selfhood. No, it is the smaller moments, when she is taking in what others think. She is totally in the moment. She is in real discomfort. Her eyes show pain. Her hands and fingers are like wilted flowers seeking out water and sun. She does not just step forward defensively to take prisoners with shouts. She once cared for these people, she loved them in her own way. Twyford shows that.
As Torvald, Craig Wallace is sympathetic in making his own compelling arguments back to Nora. He is a visual portrayal of a man living in a different world. He is not evil, just beyond his “use-by” date as a husband. He too rarely raises his voice, taking a more composed presence. He is a human being, after all, perhaps a passive-aggressive one even with his imposing physical presence.
As solid and serious daughter Emmy, Kathryn Tkel is full of internal rage about being left with no explanation. She more than holds her own against her mother Nora. She is the younger mirror image of her mother. Tkel took my breath away as she presented her wants, desires, and needs. Emmy did not want a life as “a nomad”. She craved permanency. Emmy did not want to follower her mother’s path, but her own.
Round House’s production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is terrifically smart, tart, taut and modern. It is about changing values and what can be done about them. It is not so much a shocker, but more about real people, those we might personally know, if not ourselves
The famous door that Nora once exited faded from my view. The play’s sophisticated arguments about what we owe to ourselves, to those we love and to others, in general, were bracing and forthright, whether big or small. As for the final moments of Part 2, well, go see for yourself.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 came across not as a mere sequel to Ibsen’s masterwork but as its own drama, a work that stands on its own. So, let me know what you thought of the play. As a wife or husband, parent or child, partner, the one that left or was left. What are your reactions to A Doll’s House, Part 2?
Running time: About 95 minutes with no intermission