Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 4, 2019

REVIEW: Theaterworks, A Doll’s House Part 2

Theaterworks, Hartford, CT

through February 24, 2019
By Stuart Gamble

 In 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s revolutionary, pro-feminist play “A Doll’s House” stunned its middle-class audience when the play’s heroine Nora Helmer opened the door and walked out on her husband and three young children. Now, 140 years later, playwright Lucas Hnath’s sequel, “A Doll’s House Part 2,” speculates on what happens after that iconic moment of a women’s battle against an oppressive existence.

It is now 15 years later and a middle-aged Nora returns. She is greeted by the Helmer’s faithful housekeeper/nanny Anne Marie. Understandably shocked by Nora’s sudden appearance, Anne Marie expresses both disbelief and a distant relief upon learning Nora’s reason to return. Soon, Nora also confronts her controlling husband Torvald, who is also visually shaken by Nora’s unexpected homecoming. Finally, Nora reunites with her daughter Emmy in a rather ironic mother-daughter first meeting.
Tasha Lawrence, Photo by Lanny Nagler

Tasha Lawrence’s Nora is a multi-layered characterization. Filled equally with fire and ice; her Nora is unafraid to let her feelings be known. Both sympathetic and frank, Lawrence shows the sound and fury of a woman who has boldly survived in a truly Darwinian way. Both warm and harsh, she confronts her accusers like a wrongly persecuted victim on trial who must defend her reputation and even her very reasons to exist.

The supporting cast performs equally as well with Lawrence. Amelia White’s Anne Marie nervously tries to quell Nora’s anger and newly-found freedom with disapproval and guilt for deserting her family. She even drops a few F-bombs that put Nora’s ego in its place. Sam Gregory’s Torvald at first appears rather doltish, but soon evolves into an equal sparring partner with Nora. Finally, Kira Player’s cold as ice Emmy, would have been better named Torvald Jr. for her passive aggressive insidious plan to silence Nora for good.

Director Jenn Thompson’s simple staging place actors merely confronting each other about Big issues. The production’s austerity is further emphasized by Alexander Dodge’s set consisting of two elegant chairs and three framed light panels that zap on and off at scene changes (courtesy of Phillip Rosenberg and Broken Chord’s respective lighting and sound design). Alejo Vietti’s elegantly simple costumes depict the rigidness of Victorian life.

One question lingers in this reviewer’s mind: Is a sequel necessary? And can it ever compare to the original? The answer is an unqualified Yes. The most relevant evidence is in Nora’s line to her daughter: “I’m not going to follow these bad [societal] rules, this is my chance to change the rules..”

A note to theatre-goers: This is the last Theaterworks’ 2018/19 play to be staged at its Pearl Street location. The remainder of this season will be performed at the Wadsworth Athenaeum’s Auditorium, while renovations take place at TW in anticipation of its 2019-20 season.