The drama ended when Nora slams the door on her family at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s iconic 1879 play, A Doll’s House. She’s walked out on her husband and children, which looks from many angles to be an ideal life for a woman of that time. Nora leaves her past behind to create a new future for herself. So what happened to her?
Lucas Hnath’s 2017 play, A Doll’s House, Part 2, answers with Nora returning to the home she left some 15 years earlier. She has become a successful author, writing under a pseudonym, and living and working as an independent single woman. For legal reasons, she now needs her husband to finalize their divorce and sign the papers. By law, she can only divorce him if she proves he has mistreated her. But he has reasons of his own for not having completed the task years ago. What seems straightforward has, of course, become a complicated situation for both of them.
Redbird Theater Company’s inaugural production places the audience close to the action in the converted space at the Durham Bottling Company. Director Mark Filiaci and designer Derrick Ivey have created an intimate three-sided arena where the audience is ringside to witness an emotional battle.
Jeri Lynn Schulke’s Nora sports her financial success with a smart tailored jacket and bell-shaped skirt. Her nervous volatility is masked under a fair amount of self-righteous confidence. Forced to confront the consequences of her actions, she spars, and parries, landing her rationale while knocking aside grievances. This Nora goes every round with Schulke in full command of the role.
Her sparring partners are fully up to going toe-to-toe with her. Anne Marie, capably rendered by Lenore Field, is the housekeeper who stayed to raise Nora’s children. Marleigh Purgar McDonald’s Emmy competently squares off with her mother over their differing views of marriage. McDonald creates a convincing portrayal of a young woman who has inherited the fierceness of her mother even as she channels it in opposition.
As Nora’s husband, Torvald, David Berberian offers a compelling portrait of a man with a tight rein on his emotions, keeping his voice soft and measured despite the surprise encounter with a woman who left him and their young children so many years before. His initial confusion slowly gives way to real pain and self-reflection. He too must confront the consequences of his own actions in the intervening years.
In a crisp 100 minutes, Hnath’s script interrogates marriage as an institution and a society that criticizes women more harshly for non-conformity, particularly when they choose to walk away from the situation. Nora leaves to find her voice amidst all the other voices that tell her what she should do or be. But she also represents the struggle for women in divesting from their past, especially from family. We can root for Hnath’s Nora, but we also feel the pain.
A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 runs through November 19. For more information visit https://www.redbirdtheatercompany.com/.
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