THEATER REVIEW: “A Doll’s House, Part 2” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Photograph by Daniel Rader
Henrik Ibsen is a tough act to follow. At the end of his 1879 masterpiece, A Doll’s House, audiences gasped as Nora Helmer left her husband and three children, delivering what George Bernard Shaw famously called “the door slam heard around the world,” presumably never to return. Although it seemed that during her final conversation with her husband, Torvald, Nora expressed everything she had kept bottled up inside, playwright Lucas Hnath has taken it upon himself in A Doll’s House, Part 2, now playing at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company, to imagine her return after 15 years.
Commonly deemed the father of modern drama, Ibsen transformed the popular 19th century genre, the well-made play, with its contrivances and sub-plots, into realistic, psychologically-based dramas about social issues of the time. But Hnath resorts to a contrivance to explain Nora’s return: because Torvald has neglected to file for divorce (though it was what he agreed to do years ago since the law made it almost impossible for a woman), Nora, having behaved as a single woman all this time (working, signing contracts, enjoying lovers) could now be subject to criminal prosecution if it were discovered that she is married. She must therefore convince him to sign the divorce papers.
Premiering at South Coast Repertory in 2017, A Doll’s House, Part 2 transferred to Broadway, where it received Tony nominations for all four actors, the play, the director and the costume designer. Laurie Metcalf won the Tony for Best Actress for her portrayal of Nora.
In a BookFilter interview with Michael Giltz, playwright Hnath speaks about the 10 years he worked on case intake for a not-for-profit legal organization, where he represented students whose unemployment claims were denied. There he learned the similarities between drama and the courtroom, by asking the questions: “what did you do?,” “why?” and “can I make a reasonable case for it?” He explains that in his plays he presents the best possible argument for each of the characters. In A Doll’s House, Part 2, Hnath, recalling the childhood trauma of his parents’ divorce as well his own recent break-up, argues the different points of view of Torvald (Christopher Innvar), Nora (Laila Robins), their daughter Emmy (Ashley Bufkin) and even the Nanny, Anne Marie (Mary Stout).