BWW Review: Fantastic A DOLL'S HOUSE PART 2 at The Gamm
One doesn't usually seek out sequels at live theatre, and when Ibsen finished his masterpiece A Doll's House in 1879, one can only assume he thought the interesting part of the story was over. So the pressure on this play to prove why it should even exist is almost like another character watching from the wings. Thankfully, what Lucas Hnath has written is a smart and occasionally hilarious play that justifies its creation, and ties the hands of almost all characters equally. There are plenty of satisfying revelations, and Gamm's excellent cast makes this a show not to be missed.
For those who don't remember too much about their college reading of A Doll's House, or the Gamm's 2011 production, fear not! Everything that is important to know, is hinted at or spoken of at some point in A DOLL'S HOUSE PART 2, so a re-read isn't strictly necessary. Nora Helmer is married to a man named Torvald, who is perfectly fine. Because Torvald isn't a bad husband in the traditional sense--he doesn't beat her, he's not a drunk-- Nora struggles with her feelings of wanting out. Eventually, she just leaves. She leaves her husband and three children and heads out into the unknown. Part 2 picks up 15 years later when Nora comes back--not for love, but for a divorce that Torvald failed to file, and which she needs to avoid professional embarrassment.
Jeanine Kane and Steve Kidd reprise their roles from 2011 as Nora and Torvald in this production, and inhabiting these characters seems as natural as putting on a pair of well-worn shoes. Kane explodes onto the stage in a fancy red dress and with the smug self satisfaction that surely Torvald is a shadow of his former self since she's gone. Her bravado is somewhat tempered upon receiving the information that Torvald is doing fine, and then the plot gets more and more complicated with every conversation. Steve Kidd always has a likeability on stage, but it really serves him well as Torvold, and helps to balance the audience's perception of what went wrong in this marriage. His frustration and failure to grasp the full scope of Nora's complaints feels incredibly real--he wants to be a good guy, but when he wants that, he's still thinking first about himself and not her, which is her whole complaint in the first place.
Playwright Hnath has done something rather extraordinary in this writing, which is that every single character has something to lose, regardless of what choice gets made. Nora may initially seem like she's asking for more from the family she's already taken a lot from, but the truth is always more complicated than it seems at first. Excellent Alison Russo as Nora's daughter Emmy, and the hilarious Debra Wise as housekeeper/nanny Anne Marie round out the cast. Patrick Lynch's set design is stark, but very effective with a nod to Scandinavian minimalism. The only moments in the play that didn't quite work were when each of the characters moved off the stage into the audience. Each character does this exactly once, and seems almost to be looking for agreement from the audience as the house lights are brought up and everyone can see each other. The first time this happened, it was fine; the fourth time, it was irritating, and at no point did it really serve a purpose beyond pulling the audience out of the moment.
Aside from one minor hiccup, this is a compelling night of theatre from start to finish. Kane is the real star of this show, but Kidd manages to make Torvald well-rounded, despite not having nearly as much stage time. The dynamic between Emmy and Nora, the mother and daughter who barely remember each other, is handled very well, both in terms of script and performances. This is the kind of show that you keep thinking about long after it's done.
A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 by Lucas Hnath, directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr. Now - Oct 6 at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Tickets are $45, $55 and $65; preview performances (September 12-15) are $33. Call 401-723-4266 or order online at gammtheatre.org.