The Arden’s production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath takes Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic, A Doll’s House and examines what has happened in the last 15 years. When last we saw Nora Helmer, she was defiantly liberating herself from her husband and three small children because she realized that her marriage was like a prison. Hnath’s play offers us some speculation about what might have happened after Nora abandoned her family.
This is not a play for Ibsen purists. It takes 19th century characters and give them a distinctively 21st century voice. The language is modern, but the setting and costumes are clearly 19th century. As one who has seen nearly all of Ibsen’s plays done professionally, I get the purist’s objection, but I feel playwright Hnath has done us a favor. He’s allowed us to examine what has happened the past 15 years in a vernacular that we can all understand. As Ibsen wrote for his audience, Hnath writes for his.
The Arden’s production is first rate. Scenic, Sound and Video Designer, Jorge Cousineau makes it clear we are viewing this period peace in a modern idiom. His use of projection and crawls help to keep the audience clear about what happens on the stage. The stage itself is designed almost like a boxing ring with short walls surrounding it. This makes this play about conflict even more tangible.
Olivera Gajic (Costume Designer) and Brian Sidney Bembridge (Lighting Designer) complete director Tracy Brigden’s vision of reexamining this argument in a modernistic atmosphere.
Nora is played wonderfully by Grace Gonglewski. Her knowledge of the character in the earlier play makes her performance even more nuanced. Her first encounter is with old family retainer, Anne Marie, played masterfully by Joilet Harris. Harris brings impeccable timing and a great comic delivery to this crucial connection to Nora’s old life. Torvald Helmer is sometimes a thankless role. We feel sorry for him while we totally feel that he has gotten what was coming to him. Steven Richard embraces the challenge. He gives Torvald a depth that represents his development over the past 15 years. Despite that he still makes the same mistakes he did in 1879.
Nora’s daughter, Emmy (Grace Tarves) is the final character we meet. Nora sees herself in the quick-witted Emmy. Nora is both proud and saddened to see the young woman to whom she gave birth. The play is at its best when two actors focus in on a specific discussion. Through these conversations the audience gets to reexamine Nora’s motivation in the original play. We not only learn what happened to Nora for the last 15 years, but also, we learn what happened to Torvald and the children. In the original, we only really wonder what will become of Nora, but Hnath reminds us that they all suffered because of Nora’s decision.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs until December 9th at the Arden Arcadia Stage. For information call 215.922.1122 or go online to ardentheatre.org.