BWW Review: Public Theatre Takes on Ibsen Sequel
The popularity of Lucas Hnath's Doll's House Part 2 was underscored by its second production in southern Maine - one which followed on the heels of the first at Portland's Good Theater. That Lewiston's Public Theatre offers a take on the work that is significantly different from the Portland production demonstrates the complexity and depth of possibilities in the piece.
Hnath's play imagines what has transpired for Henrik Ibsen's heroine, Nora Helmer, in the fifteen years since she slammed the door on her marriage and walked into the world to seek a new, independent identity. The action takes place in a single day when Nora returns to her former home, re-engages with her husband, daughter, and trusted nanny, and takes a hard look at the past and the challenges of the future. Tightly plotted, rich in dialogue and character study, Hnath creates a believable universe that spans the almost 140 years since Ibsen's play to the present and makes the issues of gender equality, marriage commitments, and sexual politics still profoundly relevant.
Christopher Clavelli directs with a sure hand, keeping the pace taught and even a bit suspenseful and the characters strongly etched. The opening scene with Nora and Anne-Marie is skewed a bit too heavily toward the comic and the closing scene with Nora and Torvald, while tender and touching, teeters a little toward and un-Ibsenesque sentimentality. But the major confrontations, especially between husband and wife and the searing dialogue are gripping.
John D. Ervin provides the minimalist set - an austere interior stripped of warmth, dominated by an oversized wooden door that symbolizes the shattering departure at the heart of the story. Jim Alexander's lighting design effectively washes this room in pale neutral lights with subtle mood shifts. Kathleen Payton Brown's costumes capture the period and contrast the characters. Stage Manager Lisa Bragdon maintains the taut flow of action.
As Nora, Janet Mitchko delivers a compelling performance. She plays the character with a bit of self-deprecating humor - acquired, no doubt, through struggle - and she projects the aura of a woman grown wise through her trials, but one who still feels keenly the scars. Paul Schoeffler makes a poignant Torvald. His pain is so palpable that it enlists audience sympathy despite his maddening rigidity and conventionalism. The final scene between the two is wrenching and yet bitter sweet. Ally Carey turns in a delightfully manic performance as Emmy, Nora's estranged daughter. She delivers some of the most cutting lines of the work with surgical precision tempered by a chilling gleefulness, demonstrating that she is clearly her mother's daughter. Viki Boyle's Anne-Marie has some poignant and funny moments, though she is bit too histrionic and misses the subdued, suppressed weariness of the character.
All in all, A Doll's House Part 2 represents a welcome foray into a drama that tackles thorny issues and leaves questions unanswered. If this critic might have wished for a bit more darkness and savage honesty in the overall conception, this is, nonetheless, a thought-provoking production that deserves audience attention.
Photos courtesy of The Public Theatre