BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 at TheaterWorks
Sequels are an interesting lot. For every one that turns out to be better than the original (e.g., Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Godfather, Part II) there are many more that just don't cut it. But that doesn't stop people from wanting to tell the next part of a familiar or popular tale. In theatre, we haven't seen the same volume of sequels as in popular film, and those that have been made have usually been met with lukewarm reaction. But sometimes there is just something about an unfinished story that causes writers to pick up the pen and put their own twist on a tale. Such is the case with A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2, Lucas Hnath's sequel to the groundbreaking classic 1879 play by Henrik Ibsen which is currently onstage at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 picks up 15 years after Nora Helmer slammed the door and left her privileged life at the end of Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE to pursue her own goals and ambitions, freed from the oversight and oppressive world of her husband, Torvald. For almost 130 years, audiences have watched Nora leave and fill in the blanks as to what she did afterwards asking themselves questions like - Did Nora survive? Was she successful? Was she happy? And what about her family? In Lucas Hnath's play, Nora returns, not because she wants to, but because of circumstances that require her to address unfinished business that could be her ruin if not dealt with right away. Through a few tense, yet often funny scenes Nora (Tasha Lawrence) shares what she has been doing for the last 15 years first with her friend and nanny, Anne Marie (Amelia White), then the others and enlists Anne Marie's help in finding a solution to her problem. The root of the issue is that Torvald (Sam Gregory) never filed for divorce when she left and due to the rules and restrictions of society at that time, that creates serious personal and legal issues for her. Nora is forced to face Torvald and her, now grown, daughter, Emmy (Kira Player) as she works to find a way forward that will cause the least damage. Further complications arise and secrets are revealed leading to a resolution that leaves Nora having to once again make a decision that will change her course forever.
Lucas Hnath's script for A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 has several moments that shine, especially in the scenes between Nora and Anne Marie Early in the play. Some might ask why mess with something that has been part of the theatrical lexicon for over a century? But in a #metoo world, Nora's story of empowerment and self-reliance is as important and relevant today as it was in the original. Mr. Hnath's script is witty, wordy and filled with dialogue that ranges from civil conversation to verbal warfare. He does a good job telling the story in a way that can be followed by those who are familiar with the Ibsen play, as well as those who are not.
The performances in TheaterWorks' A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 are overall quite strong. This is particularly true for Tasha Lawrence's portrayal of Nora who plays her as confident and headstrong, but with an amiable, almost mischievous undertone. I found myself smiling in several places where Nora paints the picture of her success and pushes those around her to accept her story. Equally enchanting is Amelia White's portrayal of Anne Marie. She delivers a hard-shelled, but kind confidant and mother figure to Nora and feels genuine in her compassion and the hurt that she has suffered in Nora's absence. Sam Gregory's Torvald is subdued and not quite what I would have expected from the patronizing man from Ibsen's original, however his later scenes with Nora where they finally begin to see eye to eye, are well done. Rounding out the cast of four, Kira Player's Emmy has a few strong moments as well, mirroring for Nora her younger, opinionated, and feisty self.
Jenn Thompson's direction serves the story well, making use of the simple staging while drawing out as much of the human emotion as possible from the four actors gathered. Since most of the scenes are between just two characters at a time, there could be a tendency to be boring, but Ms. Thompson's direction keeps the energy and the focus high keeping the audience riveted to the dialogue unfolding in front of them. Alexander Dodge's simple set (the famous door, a few chairs in a minimalist room) creates an "out of place and time" feeling which aims to tie the story as much to the present as its original setting. The lighting by Philip Rosenberg includes fluorescent shapes to imply windows and outline the room, though it did occasionally distract when flickering on/off between scenes. Alejo Vietti's costumes are lovely and appropriate for the story.
A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through February 24th. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to theaterworkshartford.com.
TOP PHOTO: Tasha Lawrence