Encore Michigan

Picking up where Ibsen left off–’A Doll’s House, Part 2′ at Tipping Point

Review September 23, 2019 Amy J. Parrent

NORTHVILLE, Mich.–Playwrights taking source material from a previous work and looking at it from a new perspective has often led to great success. This includes plays Tom Stoppard’s backstage-at-“Hamlet,” “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” or Bruce Norris’ 2010 play “Clybourne Park,” which explores the integration of a lily-white 1950s Chicago suburb, the very place the Youngers of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” were moving.

In A Doll’s House, Part 2, now playing at Tipping Point Theatre, writer Lucas Hnath has crafted a sequel to the groundbreaking 19th-century Henrik Ibsen play, a show that ends with the most famous door slam in theatre history. Set 15 years after that moment, Hnath’s play begins again at the door. Nora is back (with a pulsing White Stripes’ intro). She is there to confront Torvald over the divorce he never gave her, and along the way, to have charged encounters with the housekeeper Anne-Marie, and one of Nora’s now-grown children.

The play, led by Inga R. Wilson as the strong-willed, insistent Nora, is intense and engrossing. Its language is modern American English. (Some f-bombs are thrown.) Yes, 140 years (and an ocean) separates the original play from this product of 2000s America. But that doesn’t simplify the themes, rather it amplifies them.

Sure, the times they have a-changed. Now, we have no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, women running for POTUS. We also have #MeToo, glass ceilings, and sexual predators already in high office.

And we’re also still shocked at women “abandoning” their families – much more than when men do it, aren’t we? As Wilson’s Nora storms in, expounding on how unnecessary/ unrealistic a lifelong relationship is, there were some harrumphs and glances exchanged in the audience around me.

But it’s never that simple. And it wasn’t that simple for Nora, we learn. Even as her successful career elevated her, her actions have enraged another man. And being apart from her children was not  without heartbreak.

Meanwhile, Torvald is portrayed with a good dose of sympathy by John Seibert. Torvald has gotten along, although lonely, solemnly raising his children with Anne-Marie’s help. And Anne-Marie (Nancy Elizabeth Kammer) has sacrificed her own family to keep working for Torvald, taking on the lion’s share of child-rearing the three kids.

The play subtly asks us to imagine the roads not taken by all the characters. Nora’s strong-willed yet eager-for-marriage daughter, played by Jowi Estava Ghersi with enigmatic coolness, has us wondering how she would have matured if her mother stayed.  Would she have been more neurotic raised with an unhappy mother? Or more emotionally satisfied?

Director Kate Peckham has kept the 90-minute story (performed sans intermission) clipping along on Monika Essen’s beautiful set. Wilson, onstage the entire time, is a Nordic symphony of emotions, proud and persistent, while Seibert, Ghersi and Kammer offer strong and vibrant counterpoints.  This Tipping Point production crackles, and lifts Hnath’s idea and play to a most enjoyable pace and plan where we can revel in the characters Ibsen first gave to us.

After all the complex arguments, we’re left to realize that many of us, men and women of all sorts, have felt like Nora – that we’re playing a role that others want to see, rather than being who we want to be. And we all must examine what sacrifices we make, whether we stick with the script, or decide to improvise our way to a new life.

Week of 10/14/2019

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