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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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