BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 at Round House Theatre
It may strike some as odd that a play tailor-made for DC does not involve politics or policy, international intrigue nor historical events. In a city where seemingly everyone is from somewhere else, A Doll's House, Part 2 is about something all of us have had to do at some point or another, return home to face our past. Fueled by a powerhouse cast led by the dazzling Holly Twyford, Round House Theatre's production is a homecoming not to be missed.
Now if you're thinking "Did I miss part one? Did Round House stage it earlier this season?" You are excused because the part one playwright Lucas Hnath is referencing is Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House.
Ok, now you're really confused, but stick with me, because it is worth it. Hnath's 2017 play picks up where Ibsen's left off. Fifteen years after leaving her marriage, children, and home in A Doll's House, Nora (Twyford) has returned. The purpose for the reunion is not reconciliation, an attempt to reconnect with her children, or to make peace, she simply wants her divorce to be made official.
This is because since leaving, Nora has become a successful feminist writer. When an angry husband, who happens to be a judge and whose wife credits Nora's book for their separation, discovers that she isn't divorced, he threatens to expose her as a fraud.
Why does Nora's marital status matter?
Because, if she is not divorced then all the contracts and arrangements she has made for herself since leaving her husband Torvald (Craig Wallace) would be null and void. Married women in 1894 were not allowed to enter into any contracts without their husband's consent. To rectify the situation either Torvald must file for divorce, or Nora must, ruining him in the process by showing gross marital cruelty on his part.
Suddenly Nora's situation and Hnath's play become about more than just her return home - it is a thoughtful and topical exposition about gender and societal norms. What we see, with a lamenting sadness, is that despite the play's 1894 setting, the situations, battles, and discrimination facing Nora is not only relevant, but part of our larger societal conversation about gender equality.
Hnath sets the entire play in the living room of Torvald, and formerly Nora's, once grand Norwegian estate. Paige Hathaway's set is not so much aged, as it is unkempt. With furniture askew, it is clear he hasn't bothered to redecorate since Nora left. Still the juxtaposition between the play's contemporary language, late 18th century locale, and disheveled living room setting remind us that despite the passage of time, Nora's search for identity is still ongoing and so is the search for universal equality.
Nora's return is the catalyst for the play and you could not ask for a grander actress to lead this production than Twyford. Resplendent in a silken blue dress and coat, courtesy of Costume Designer Helen Huang, she is a force to be reckoned with. Nicole Watson's fluid direction keeps Twyford in perpetual motion adding to the inherent tension of Nora's situation.
A Doll's House, Part 2, despite having a four person cast, is largely a series of two-person scenes between Nora and Torvald, her daughter Emmy (Kathryn Tkel), and maid Anne Marie (Nancy Robinette). While Wallace, always a pleasure to watch on stage, is a stately Torvald, and Robinette a somewhat skittish Anne Marie, it is Twyford's scenes with Tkel which take this production to another level.
Their chemistry, passion, timing, and downright magnetism are a sight to behold. Tkel is fearless as Emmy, unafraid to face a mother who long ago left and now returns seeking help. When Emmy informs Nora that she intends to pursue a life she knows her mother will object to, Tkel does so with such skill that we hang on her and Twyford's every word.
Hnath's dry and acerbic humor helps to ensure A Doll's House, Part 2 does not become too heavy. It's a smart move considering any play exploring societal norms can come off as preachy when not interspersed with moments of humor.
Returning home is inherently dramatic. Family tensions, no matter the relationship, guarantee that. The cleverness of A Doll's House, Part 2 is that Hnath does not use this familiar setup to explore the predictable. Instead, he chooses to make Nora's visit an exploration of societal issues. When you add an all-star cast into the mix, the play takes on a whole new dimension. And that is why Round House's production is exquisite.
She's backkkkkkk! Trust, you are not going to want to miss Nora's return.
Runtime: 95 minutes with no intermission
Round House Theatre's production of A Doll's House, Part 2 runs thru June 30 at The Lansburgh Theatre - 450 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets please click here.