Slipstream rekindles ‘A Doll’s House: Part 2’
FERNDALE, Mich.–When Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House in the 1870s, he left things wide open for the audience to wonder would have become of Nora, the protagonist of the play after the final bow. Ibsen’s story was groundbreaking, after all.
Lucas Hnath is pretty audacious in his undertaking of A Doll’s House: Part 2. He not only inserts his ideas into Ibsen’s story and characters–something more and more writers are doing with public domain works like those from Charles Dickens and Jane Austen–but he weaves some thoroughly modern language into the mouths of his characters who on any given day might be talking about the latest news about Queen Victoria or Norway’s King Oscar.
Ibsen wrote of a strong woman, Nora (Jeannine Thompson), with an independent streak at a time when women’s rights were being asserted and litigated in Scandanavia ahead of the debate in the U.S. At the end of Ibsen’s original, Nora, stifled by her marriage to Torvald (Patrick O’Lear), leaves the family including her children. Ibsen had ample opportunity to write a sequel to the story, having lived on until 1906, but he was never inspired to do so.
In comes Hnath with a story that starts 15 years after Nora’s exit. She has come home, having established herself as a decently successful author. Indeed, Torvald, after having an argument with his prodigal wife, is able to buy her latest book at the local shop. She has her own money and life, and she has had any number of lovers.
Nora is in a bind. And it does not give away critical information to say that Nora, Torvald and daughter Emmie (Maggie Alger) and Anne Marie (Maggie Gilkes), the nanny who looked after Nora’s children in her absence, have a series of conversations about the fact that Torvald never formally filed for divorce. Nora thought she had. And in the 1870s, for Nora, this has presented a series of problems.
Hnath has an extraordinary gift for accurate dialogue. His speeches for Nora about the suffocating nature of a marriage gone bad are penetrating and Ms. Thompson’s delivery of Nora’s angst and resolute dignity about her choice to leave so as not to die from lack of oxygen is convincing, searing and organic.
Hnath’s depiction of Anne Marie is thoroughly modern with lots of modern curse words that seem more appropriate for 1979 than 1879. But it does not detract, and indeed, roots the eternal theme of women being stifled in modernity instead of locked up in the feminism movement of 150 years ago. O’Lear has to cover a wide swath in the 90 minute play, from angry jilted husband to vindictive to something all together different by the end of the story. Alger’s Emmie is calculating. She is business-like about her mother’s departure and return, but she also lets in a bit of hurt to her eyes and face that cracks through just enough.
Director Bailey Boudreau keeps the play tight and taut There is but one bench inside the theatre’s front performance space, which has the feel of a large living room with seating for about 35. The walls are painted blue as if the paint is old and the room neglected. Indeed, it looks like the inside of a doll’s house that was abandoned 15 years earlier with all but the one bit of furniture left behind and unwanted.
A Doll’s House: Part Two is a talky play. But in the hands of this well directed cast, the talk is snappy and crackles and makes an audience think, as Ibsen’s did, about the role and rights of personal achievement and liberty of women who have long been mistakenly called the weaker sex. Women are, in fact, the gender that has held the world together, healing it after the men have done all they can to blow it up.