Reviewed by George Basler
Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 masterpiece, A Doll’s House, ends with a shocker as Nora, the main character, walks out the door, leaving behind a suffocating marriage and abandoning three young children.
Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins with Nora walking back through the door 15 years later. How she is greeted by those she rejected is being depicted in a lively and satisfying production at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene.
The play was a hit on Broadway in 2017 and won Laurie Metcalf a Tony Award for her performance as Nora. The CRT production, which opened this past weekend (May 24-26), features intelligent direction by Kiara Pipino and a strong cast of actors who make their characters deeply human and emotionally compelling.
Skillful acting is essential because Hnath has structured his play as a series of debates among the characters about the nature of relationships and self-actualization. If poorly acted, this could be didactic and dull, but CRT’s production holds your attention. It feels as if you’re eavesdropping on people going through real-life problems where nothing is one-sided, and nothing is black or white.
While A Dolls House, Part 2 is a serious play, it has comic moments, notably in the second act when Nora and her husband, Torvald, get into a knock-down, drag-out confrontation. It begins with near violence, then turns into a slapstick routine that works supremely well in the context of the play.
Bevin Bell-Hall gives an affecting performance as Nora, who is brimming with self-confidence from penning a series of feminist novels that focus on women leaving their husbands. Bell-Hall skillfully plays this strength but also finds humor in the character’s self-delusion about the future. (“Twenty, 30 years from now, marriage will be a thing of the past,” she pontificates at one point.)
The fact that Nora is a mixture of empowerment and cluelessness makes the role a challenging one, and Bell-Hall does a capable job. What’s missing from the character, though, is a sense of mystery or deep feelings. Nora seems almost detached from what’s going on around her.
The supporting cast is first rate. Drew Kahl plays Torvald in a way that engenders compassion. Kahl effectively shows the character’s simmering anger toward Nora while also revealing that he’s become a more chastened and understanding – if still slightly smug — person. He would welcome the chance for a “do over” with Nora. What’s emotionally painful is his realization that it’s impossible.
Dori May Ganisin plays the family’s housekeeper, Anne Marie, with good comic timing and expert facial expressions that prompt many of the play’s laughs. But the character is more than a comic foil, and Ganisin’s performance is a nuanced one that shows both the resentment and affection that Anne Marie feels toward Nora and the family.
Finally, Amy Crossman gives a subtle and impressive performance as Emmy, Nora’s now-grown daughter. All coolness on the outside, Emmy churns with resentment on the inside. A long scene in which Crossman confronts her mother about marriage, and the impact of Nora’s abandonment, is brilliantly staged and acted. “Don’t make my wants your wants,” Emmy tells Nora in a particularly jarring moment that Crossman makes her own.
One sticking point in Hnath’s play is his decision to drop in “f bombs” and other profanities at certain points. While the language gives the play a contemporary feel and prompts some laughs, it plays like a gimmick that is jarringly out of place with the time period of Ibsen’s original work. Dedicated Ibsen enthusiasts must be gnashing their teeth.
Still, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is consistently engaging and raises some interesting questions. When does self-actualization become selfishness? Is convention stifling or something humans need to cling to? Is individual insularity a cause for celebration or something that will lead to “a future in which we are all just nomads,” as Emmy tells her mother?
The Chenango River Theatre has opened its 12th season with a thought-provoking work.
IF YOU GO: A Doll’s House, Part 2 will be performed through June 16 at the Chenango River Theatre, 991 State Highway 12, Greene. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Ticket are $25 for all performances except Saturday evenings, which are $27.
New this season is free tickets to high school and full-time college students (22 and under). Up to eight seats will be available at no charge for any Thursday, Friday and Saturday performance. For more information, visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org or call 656-8499.