Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review of "A Doll's Life, Part 2"

It’s been 15 years since Nora walked out on her husband and children in Henrik Ibsen’s classic play of self-determination, A Doll’s House.  But, now she’s back in A Doll’s House, Part 2, a sequel as envisioned by playwright Lucas Hnath.   The very talkative play is sporadically funny and thought-provoking as it presents themes on marriage, independence, woman’s rights, and tradition.

Tasha Lawrence as Nora in "A Doll's House, Part 2."

The production begins as Nora (Tasha Lawrence) appears at the door she so famously closed.  In a quick conversation with her former housekeeper, Anne Marie (Amelia White), the audience learns all about the last decade and one-half of Nora’s life, her rationale for leaving, and her desires for the future.  She then reveals the real reason for her sudden reappearance, which necessitates what could be a difficult tete-a-tete with her abandoned husband Torvald (Sam Gregory) and his acquiescence on carrying out an important, long-forgotten administrative task.  When the initial exchanges with her still wounded husband fail, Nora attempts to induce the Anne Marie, who has stayed in the household, into her plans as well as the daughter, Emmy (Kira Player), she barely knows.  In the end, the main protagonists are back at the beginning, maybe having a little more understanding between them.
Tasha Lawrence and Amelia White in "A Doll's House, Part 2."
Writer Hnath has constructed a unique work that honors the original while branching out with his own viewpoints.  He expands on the nature of marriage and love, which would have been extremely provocative during the play’s timeframe, but are just as stimulating in today’s world. 
While proffering a central character that is exceedingly independent, the playwright has also fashioned Nora as a woman who, ostensibly, runs away when faced with difficulties.  She also looks to others to solve her problems.  In a sense, how independent and forward thinking has she become?
Tasha Lawrence and Sam Gregory in "A Doll's House, Part 2."
The cast is consistently satisfying, led by Tasha Lawrence as Nora.  The actress, while showing perseverance and commitment to her character’s beliefs, could have given a more layered performance to better gain sympathy from the audience and more effectively show emotion outside her own focus. Sam Greogry gives Torvald a somber, damaged quality.  Still suffering from his wife’s sudden departure all those years ago, he convincingly portrays a man trying to comprehend the changes swirling around him.  Amelia White’s portrayal of the long-time housekeeper, Anne Marie, provides a dash of comic relief as she banters, argues, and tries to fathom the motives of her former mistress.  Ms. White comes across as the most genuine character as she demonstrates compassion and combativeness while seemingly lost in a transforming world.  Kira Player, who plays the daughter, Emmy, is slightly stilted in her performance, but possesses a reserve and stalwartness like her stage mother.

Director Jenn Thompson has a difficult task in conceiving an entertaining production since, even though this is a four person show, throughout nearly all of its 90 minutes, only two characters are on the unadorned stage at one time.  The effect can be like a tiresome 15-round boxing match with “punches” and “counter punches” being thrown, but not the occasional knockdown to liven up the match. There would have been more drama if the character of Nora was more nuanced.  While she comes off as independent, confident, and self-assured her intense self-focus and almost utter lack of empathy becomes wearisome.
Alexander Dodge's set for "A Doll's House, Part 2."
Alexander Dodge’s Scenic Design is boxed-shaped and bare bones—a few chairs and an imposing door, center, at the back of the stage.  Along with Philip Rosenberg’s Lighting Design incorporating harsh, fluorescent lights, it is highly effective in its allusion to the caged, trapped nature of the four characters.

A Doll’s House, Part 2, provocative discoursing that is moderately rewarding.

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