Posts Tagged ‘a doll’s house’

A Doll’s House, Part 2
by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Timothy Near
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 12, 2018

Caralyn Kozlowski, Michael James Reed
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

What would happen if Nora Helmer came back?  Would she even try to come back? And if so, when, and why? Those are questions that have been asked countless times since Henrik Ibsen’s classic and initially controversial play, A Doll’s House, first premiered in 1879. Well, now playwright Lucas Hnath has provided his own answers in the succinctly named A Doll’s House, Part 2. Produced on Broadway to critical acclaim in 2017, it’s now being produced here at the Rep, in a production that’s sure to provoke more questions and a lot of thought.

This play features four characters, all seen or mentioned in Ibsen’s original play. It’s 15 years later, and the once well-appointed Helmer home now shows signs of disarray, with chairs heaped in a corner, fading paint, and obvious spaces on the wall where paintings were once on display. The play begins with a knock at the door, which is eventually answered by the Helmers’ longtime housekeeper and nanny Anne Marie (Tina Johnson), who opens the door to find the long-absent Nora (Caryalyn Kozlowski) returned at long last, elegantly dressed and carrying herself with an initially confident, assertive air. Playwright Hnath has given her a believable backstory and a reason to return which I won’t go into here other than to say it makes perfect sense considering the characters, especially as they are presented here. She’s back in town to see Torvald (Michael James Reed), the husband she left in shock so many years before, with an urgent request that he’s reluctant to fulfill for his own personal reasons. What ensues is essentially a series of conversations, between Nora and Anne Marie, between Nora and Torvald, and also between Nora and Emmy (Andrea Abello), Nora’s youngest child and only daughter who was a small child when Nora left but is now a young adult. Things have changed lot since Nora left, both for her and for the family she left behind.

The characters and the issues presented are richly portrayed, in a sharp, confrontational and often darkly comic tone that brings out the contrast in the characters, their situations, and their conflicting views. Nora is a writer and activist now, with strong opinions about her own role in society and that of women in general, and the institution of marriage in particular. Even thought her portrayal in the play affirms her choice to leave, Hnath is also not shy in portraying the sometimes devastating consequences of her actions on those she left behind, as well as the sharp contrast between her own idealistic views of life and those of the young, newly engaged and also idealistic (in her own way) Emmy. The confrontations are personal as well as ideological, and as is to be expected, her scenes with Torvald are the most emotionally charged. This is a play of big ideas, strong personalities, and struggles to find an individual voice in the midst of strictly defined societal roles and expectations. Like its famous predecessor, this play is thought-provoking, to say the least, taking the issues from Ibsen’s play and casting them in the light of a more contemporary perspective, even though the setting remains in the 19th Century period.

There’s a great cast here, led by the dynamic, stage-commanding performance of Kozlowski as the determined, highly idealistic Nora. This is a woman who knows what she wants, but also struggles with the idea that not everyone wants what she wants. The always excellent Reed is also strong as a particularly stubborn Torvald, who is still nursing his old wounds from Nora’s departure and still seems confused and bewildered by her, for the most part. The scenes between these two are a dynamic highlight of the production. Abello is also memorable as Emmy, who although she is more traditionally-minded than her mother, in her own way is just as idealistic and stubborn as Nora. There’s also a great performance from Johnson as the loyal but exasperated Anne Marie, who is devoted to the family and still struggles to make sense of Nora’s departure as well as her return.

Director Timothy Near’s staging is brisk and physical, making the most of the actors’ energy and chemistry, as well as Scott C. Neale’s vivid, evocative set. This is a home in disrepair, sparsely furnished and seeming appropriately incomplete. The costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall are meticulously detailed, reflecting the characters with precision, from the confrontationally elegant Nora to the more strait-laced Torvald to the older, weary Anne Marie to the youthful, optimistic Emmy. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Ann G. Wrightson and sound designer Rusty Wandall in setting and maintaining the mood and tone of the production.

This was a highly talked-about play when it debuted on Broadway, which is fitting considering it’s a sequel to a play that’s been talked about, thought about, and written about for almost 140 years. That time difference adds a lot of perspective to this piece, revisiting the original setting but with a tone change that provides a contemporary flair. With the Rep’s first-rate production values, energetic staging, and strong cast, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is sure to get audiences thinking, and talking.

Caralyn Kozlowski, Andrea Abello
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting A Doll’s House, Part 2 until November 4, 2018


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A Doll’s House
by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 2, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

A Doll’s House is a much-performed and studied classic of theatre by famed 19th Century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s been celebrated and criticized over the decades for its feminist message, and its central role has been played by many accomplished actresses. At Stray Dog Theatre, this play represents a revolution of sorts, as it brings this always good theatre company into a new level of excellence, especially where non-musical plays are concerned.

The story, set in a small town in Norway in 1879, follows pampered housewife Nora Helmer (Nicole Angeli), who lives a seemingly idyllic existence as the wife of respected local business man Torvald (Ben Ritchie), who has just accepted a prestigious job as manager of a local bank. Her husband dotes on her, calling her his “Songbird” and “Skylark” and treating her something like an overgrown child. Nora has her own children, too–two young sons (Joe Webb as Ivar, Simon Desilets as Bobby) and a baby daughter, cared for by Nora’s childhood nanny, Anne-Marie. Her house is well-appointed and her husband’s reputation is impeccable. He’s frequently visited by his old friend, the kind but sickly Dr. Rank (John N. Reidy), and revels in the prospect of his new job and the money and status it will give him and the family, including Nora, who seems to enjoy spending his money.  As simple and stereotypical as Nora may seem at first, however, we soon learn of secrets that she is hiding even from her husband. As old school friend Kristine Linde (Rachel Hanks) arrives, newly widowed and looking for a job, Nora reveals the truth about her past with Torvald, and exactly how she was able to afford a trip to Italy some years previous that proved lifesaving for him but put Nora into the debt of Nils Krogstad (Stephen Peirick), a disgraced and disgruntled employee of the bank who is at risk of losing his job when Torvald takes over, and who desperately doesn’t want that to happen. As events progress and more is revealed about Krogstad, Kristine, Dr. Rank, and especially Torvald, Nora is forced to examine the life she has led and her future with the man she’s married to but isn’t sure she knows as well as she had thought.

This play is masterfully constructed, and even though it was written over 100 years ago and is focused on a specific time and place, it still has resonance today in terms of the roles of men and women in marriage, societal expectations and personal agency. In a way, this play is something of a counterpoint to another Ibsen classic, Hedda Gabler, depicting a woman’s plight amid the expectations of society but with somewhat different circumstances and drastically different conclusions. At Stray Dog, director Gary F. Bell has staged this work meticulously, emphasizing character relationships and pacing the show with just the right balance of urgency and patience, allowing the characters’ decisions and thought processes to convey believably and with resonance.  It all takes place on an exquisitely wrought birdcage-like set designed by Robert J. Lippert, with sumptuous, richly detailed costumes by Eileen Engel that evoke the era and style of period with excellence. These qualities are strongly supported as well by Tyler Duenow’s excellent lighting and Justin Been’s clear sound.  It’s a stunning technical production, augmenting the truly first-rate performances of the cast.

As Nora, Angeli excels. I’ve seen her in many plays over the years, and she continues to impress with her sheer ability to lose herself in a role. She inhabits Nora here with an impressive mixture of girlishness, shrewdness, vulnerability, and an underlying intelligence that shows itself more as the story plays out. She makes Nora’s journey 100% credible, and she shines in all her scenes, especially with Ritchie, also impressive as the controlling, self-absorbed but emotionally dependent Torvald. Also making strong impressions are Reidy as the earnest, kind but ultimately sad Dr. Rank, Hanks as the determined, honest Kristine, and Peirick as the oily, desperate Krogstad, whose villainy has a distinct reason. The whole supporting cast is strong, as well, with Melanie Kozak impressing as the all-seeing family maid Helene, and convincing performances from Renard as kindly nanny Anne-Marie and young Webb and Desilets as the Helmers’ sons. This is a strong script, and it demands a strong cast, which Stray Dog’s production emphatically provides.

Stray Dog Theatre is an excellent theatre company, and I’ve seen some wonderful shows there over the years, especially in the area of musical theatre. With this timely, transcendent production of A Doll’s House, though, this company has achieved a new level of excellence with a non-musical play. It’s a production that manages to celebrate Ibsen and shine a light on the plight of women in society in his time as well as now. This is a challenging work, and SDT has more than met that challenge. It’s a truly superb production.

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting A Doll’s House at the Tower Grove Abbey until February 18, 2017.

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