A Doll’s House Part 2 Arrives in Seattle

Playwright Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2 came to Broadway in 2017 and garnered eight Tony Award nominations. Pamela Reed, playing Nora Helmer, heads up an outstanding cast for the show’s Seattle premiere at the Seattle Rep. The play’s action is set fifteen years after Nora walked out on her family in Ibsen’s groundbreaking Victorian era masterpiece, A Doll’s House. While enjoyment of the Rep’s current offering wouldn’t be curtailed if you haven’t seen or read Ibsen’s play, some familiarity with the work can only add to your appreciation of this thought provoking new show. However you approach the evening, you will be confronted with tough questions on the role of husbands, wives and marriages that really have not been definitively answered in the last 140 years.

The one act play is divided into separate scenes, each generally focusing on one of its four characters.  The first scene features Nora, who begins the action by knocking on the very same door she used to leave her husband Torvald, her children and her home when she had decided she could no longer serve as a disrespected plaything. The set, designed by Carey Wong is notably barren; apparently the Helmer household didn’t exactly thrive after Nora’s departure.   Anne Marie (a delightful Laura Kenny), the family maid, greets her. Nora poses a question to Anne Marie that anyone who knows The Doll’s House would dearly love to have answered. She asks with a sly grin, “Guess what I’ve been doing?” Yes, what does one of the most famous heroines in modern literature do with the rest of her life after she has committed such a revolutionary act?

Nora proudly explains she has become a successful writer, encouraging women to leave bad marriages. Director Braden Abraham has Reed break the fourth wall here, and argue her case regarding the stultifying aspects of marriage directly to the audience. Surprisingly, Anne Marie isn’t buying Nora’s thesis. Indeed, all four characters will set forth very different and compelling takes on the institution of marriage. The maid confronts Nora with the unnaturalness of her ideas. She claims things are the way they are for a reason. Kenny brings to the maid’s role a good amount of spunk. Anne Marie’s language is down to earth and pretty “salty,” assuring a PG 13 rating if the script should ever become a film.

The wonderfully talented Michael Winters plays Torvald. The first reunion of the husband and wife is one of the highlights of the play as both Winters and Reed plumb the depths of a scene replete with such obvious tensions. Torvald seems to be a much more sympathetic character in this new work, and Winters has the chops to bring a fully realized man to life here. Torvald has been hurt and is still confused as to what is to be expected of him as a husband to Nora. He states simply, “I don’t know how to behave!”

Near the end of the play, Torvald and Nora share a lovely, relaxed talk. With their defenses down, the two are able to quietly arrive at some central truths about their past relationship. Again Winters and Reed excel in offering a moving study of two characters simply trying to figure out how to find happiness with other people.

The fourth character in the play is the daughter Emmy, portrayed by Khanh Doan. Although Nora insists she sees a lot of herself in the young woman, Emmy proves to have a mind very much her own. At first polite and somewhat distant toward her mother, she becomes more and more confrontational toward Nora during her time on stage. Doan skillfully enacts her character’s arc. Emmy has seen the results of an abandoned marriage and wants nothing to do with Nora’s progressive ideas. To her, single adults are “so lonely, all just nomads.” She tells her mother, “I want to be held!”

Like Ibsen’s classic, the new play brings in a number of legal and financial complications. Nora’s radical act of desertion created ripples that rock the sailing of all four characters. However, the play’s central focus is really on how men and women can find a common ground and somehow reach an accord that respects the individuality and equality of both partners. Nora’s last line in the play denotes a measured faith in the progress of women’s rights. Hnath’s work makes it quite clear that the journey toward equality is arduous and morally ambiguous, but it must continue.

A Doll’s House Part 2 runs through April 28 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in the Seattle Center. For more ticket information go to www. seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

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