BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 at Long Wharf Theatre
What happens after Nora slammed the door? Lucas Hnath's 2017 play conjures up some ideas that can make your head spin. Nora (played by Maggie Bofill) is now a bulldog, returning to her marital home 15 years later when she found out that Torvald (Jorge Cordova) never signed their divorce papers. Their daughter, Emmy (Sasha Diamond) is a demanding young woman. Her nanny, Anne Marie (Mia Kaitgbak) is loyal to the family but not exactly subservient. A lot can happen in 15 years. Nora's potential legal problems from having committed fraud to save her husband's life get stickier without the divorce papers, and Torvald's treasured reputation is sunk with them because people think Nora died. Before going into what a can of worms this play is, let's look into some crucial things few people know about the original 1879 play.
Although Ibsen was Norwegian, he wrote his plays in Danish because that was the common written language in both Norway and Denmark during his lifetime. The plays took place in Norway, but Denmark's economic state heavily influenced A Doll's House. During that time, the Danish government officially discouraged its citizens from overspending and borrowing money. Nils Krogstad, Torvald's colleague at the bank, is way overqualified for his position, but times were tough and he was desperate. Kristine Linde, Nora's old school friend, could do Nils's job, even though she had no business experience. Nora borrowed money and did little, if anything, to conserve, even though her husband was sick. She kept her servants. She bought holiday gifts. She was desperate enough to forge her late father's signature to get a loan.
Back to A Doll's House, Part 2. Hnath's concept is brilliant, but it is disappointing. For starters, the four characters are not likeable. It's hard to root for the once repressed Nora, even though she became a successful feminist novelist (writing under a pseudonym). Torvald is as stuffy as ever. Emmy is sassy and manipulative. Anne Marie is snippy. Hnath's salty language during the fight between Nora and her husband is incongruous with the early 20th century costumes in this production. It would have been more credible if the production were in all contemporary costumes. Arnulfo Maldonado's set design is interesting and has some symbolism of bridging Nora's two worlds, but it doesn't really work. Although the play takes place indoors, the set is clearly outside on what appears to be a long deck and the roof of a beautiful sukkah, complete with vines. Claire Zoghb's program is the best part of this production. It features the heavy door that separates the Helmers from the rest of the world and some of the scenery. What makes the show worth seeing is the fine acting by the four performers and Will Davis's directing, but it's a lot to ask for them to shoulder such a weight.