Full review, A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2

by Lynn on March 28, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lucas Hnath

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Teresa Pzybylski

Lighting by Michael Walton

Sound by Michael Wright

Cast: Paul Essiembre

Deborah Hay

Kate Hennig

Bahareh Yaraghi

A thoughtful, bracing, deeply human production of Lucas Hnath’s dazzling ‘continuation’ of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

The Story. A bit of a recap with Ibsen’s A Doll’s House even though playwright Lucas Hnath says it’s really not necessary.

In 1879 Nora Helmer is married to Torvald Helmer, a banker. He treats her like a little pet or child and she plays the part and acts the little pet, innocent woman (although with three children) angling for macaroons and money. Torvald appears to deny her nothing. But then trouble appears. Torvald got sick and Nora went to terrible lengths to help him and when the truth is revealed and she is being blackmailed, Nora believes that Torvald will take the blame and save her. It doesn’t happen and she realizes her idyllic married life is a sham and she tells him so in a pretty compelling way and leaves him and the children, slamming the door with a sound that is heard around the world (as it’s been described). A Doll’s House is believed to be the play that was the beginning of modern drama.

A Doll’s House Part 2 takes place 15 years later. Playwright Lucas Hnath has Nora come back, but not to grovel for forgiveness. No, in that time away Nora found her true self and her voice.  She matured, prospered and discovered the joys of independence. But she finds out that Torvald didn’t sign the divorce papers all those years before that would truly set her free and she comes back to recon with him to do it.

The Production. Director Krista Jackson’s thoughtful, carefully paced and balanced production explores the notions of women in society and marriage, man-woman relations, the mores of the time, how women and men acted and were perceived, the rigid code of behaviour expected of men and women in Ibsen’s day and how far we have come since then or not.

Teresa Pzybylski’s grey set of a room in Torvald’s house is properly austere befitting a man who got rid of all his wife’s positions and didn’t replace them with anything of his own. The chairs are covered with a dust covering. One assumes no one has ever come to visit requiring one to uncover the chairs. When Nora (Deborah Hay) comes back the house-keeper Anne-Marie (Kate Hennig) uncovers the chairs but arranges them very far away from each other, suggesting that no one in that household has intimate conversations with anyone. This is so telling about what went on in that house. Nora shifts the chairs around so that she is close to Anne-Marie and can have a conversation with her.

As Nora, Deborah Hay reveals a woman in control, confident albeit wary when she first sees Anne-Marie. Hay’s body language is easy, expansive, expressive and even at times very broad. She sits in her beautiful and expensive long dress (we know how well Nora has done by the quality of the dress), sometimes spreads her legs and leans an arm on one covered knee to make a point, something unheard of if Nora conformed to the upright, knees-together posture of a woman adhering to the rules of decorum of the day.

As Anne-Marie, Kate Hennig is wonderfully formidable, with her adherence to how things should be and how women should behave. Anne-Marie holds her arms and hands close to her body. She dresses in black and is a loyal servant. She is a woman who holds he ideas firmly but is fascinated by Nora and what has happened to her. Their wrangling is something like a modern woman (Nora) trying to enlighten an old fashioned woman (Anne-Marie) about how the world has changed and all that old fashioned woman wants is to hold on to her archaic attitudes.

Nora’s mind is nimble and her responses are quick and clear when sparing with Torvald (Paul Essiembre). All the emotions she couldn’t show when she lived there fifteen years ago come gushing out now after she finds out who she really is. Over those years Torvald has also had time to think and ponder. As played by Paul Essiembre, Torvald is a man who is proud but wounded (perhaps he’s playing at being wounded, after all he is self-centred and feels he’s the slighted party). At times he’s tentative, at other times he’s prickly. In any case both Nora and Torvald have changed and they learn how much and how much more could be done.

The last person to be introduced is Emmy (Bahareh Yaraghi), Torvald and Nora’s 18 year old daughter. Nora didn’t want to meet her because she had left when Emmy was only about three and didn’t want to confuse her. While Emmy couldn’t remember a thing about her mother, she was curious to meet her. Bahareh Yaraghi as Emmy is poised, has the confidence of a young woman who is unconditionally loved by Anne-Marie and her father. She is smart. Anne-Marie says she raised Emmy to be resourceful. We soon learn that can also mean cunning and manipulative, and perhaps without a sense of right if it gets in the way of what she wants. She comes up with an idea for Nora to solve a problem that involves something illegal, something with which Nora has experience. As Yaraghi gleefully suggests it, she is buoyant and without qualms that what she proposes is wrong. It’s a performance that makes Emmy both charming and alarming, both good things with this splendid performance.

Comment. Lucas Hnath has written a dazzlingly fascinating play about relationships, customs, how the world changes and how some people don’t keep up. He has referenced Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in such a clever way that you don’t really need to have read it to really appreciate his accomplishment with A Doll’s House Part 2. It’s interesting to see how Torvald manipulates the situation with Nora to get the better of her, but she doesn’t bite. He criticizes her for not staying and fighting for their marriage. I found it interesting that he didn’t bring up the real reason she left and he knows.

I also found it interesting that when Emmy arrives she is the one who tells her mother she knows why she left, to find her true self. I wonder how Emmy knew that. I don’t think Anne-Marie told her and Torvald certainly didn’t, so how did she know? One more interesting question that arises from this fascinating play.

Eons ago when I was in university taking History, Theory and Criticism of Theatre, one of my (male) professors wrote an essay expounding on why Nora came back quickly after she left: she was a woman alone on Christmas Eve and no one would take her in; she wouldn’t know how to fend for herself or make a living; she would not have the pluck to cope. I read the essay with a smirk and rolled eyes at the blinkered attitude of a man trying (and failing) to be provocative. Lucas Hnath’s complex, compelling and intellectually stimulating play takes my professor’s faulty reasoning in his essay and kicks it to the curb. Hnath gives us much to ponder regarding marriage, men-women relations, attitudes on solitude and self-discovery both in Nora’s day and today.

Krista Jackson’s production will have you sitting just a bit forward in your seat, not wanting to miss a word.

David Mirvish presents a co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Opened: March 27, 2019.

Closes: April 14, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


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