Huntington's "A Doll's House, Part 2": Knock Knock Who's There?

Nancy E. Carroll & Mary Beth Fisher in "A Doll's House, Part 2"
(photo: Kevin Berne) 

At one point in Huntington Theatre Company's current production of A Doll's House, Part 2, the character of Anne Marie (Nancy E. Carroll) barks at her former employer Nora (Mary Beth Fisher): “There's the door...I know you know how to use it”. She's of course referencing the potent final scene in Ibsen's A Doll's House when Nora slammed that door and left her husband and children behind. Huntington presented its version of Ibsen's original work, albeit with a slight change of punctuation in its title (Doll House), just two seasons ago. In 2017, playwright Lucas Hnath created a sequel that takes place some fifteen years after Nora's dramatic departure in Ibsen's storytelling. It inexplicably earned eight Tony Award nominations including Best Play and has become the most produced play to be performed throughout the country this season. This version, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, directed by Les Waters, attempts to be as much a commentary on our times and how things haven't changed as it is on the issues dealt with by Ibsen himself. Not unlike Bruce Norris' 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park sequel to Lorraine Hansbery's 1959 A Raisin in the Sun, this play serves as an epilogue to the original source, or at least tries to do so.

John Judd & Mary Beth Fisher in "A Doll's House, Part 2"
(photo: Kevin Berne)

Now a successful independent writer, Nora has come knocking on that proverbial door, seeking for various reasons to finalize her divorce from her husband Torvald (John Judd), but there are complications, most of them implausible, that must first be aired with him and their daughter Emmy (Nicki Massoud). If Ibsen's play was about the suffocating issues of the time, this work aims to expose the sublimated underbelly of society, then and now. By juxtaposing contemporary dialog with period costumes, the concept is neither fish nor fowl, raising the question of the intention behind this schizoid effort. With this play's placement just a decade and a half after Nora's departure, what is the point of illustrating that nothing much has changed in society within this brief period? If this supposedly matured Nora is truly a woman of the world, how is it that she is so incredibly naive? That said, there are some apt comic lines, anachronisms though they may be; less apt are a number of totally out-of-character f-bombs and expletives, jarring in this supposedly historic context. Crucially, the basic premise is what lacks interest or development, merely a statement of what Nora's limited “options” are.

Nicki Massoud in "A Doll's House, Part 2"
(photo: Kevin Berne)

Under the Direction by Waters, the compact ensemble of four actors all (save Carroll) end up declaiming rather than portraying characters. Even the minimalist Scenic Design by Andrew Boyce is strange, consisting of no furniture except a table, two chairs and a clothes rack; we are told that all of Nora's possessions were tossed out (and never replaced in a decade and a half?). The stark Lighting Design by Yi Zhao and Sound Design by J. Jumbelic are effective, as is the period Costume Design by Annie Smart, though it too seems incongruous given the colloquial dialog Hnath employs.

This company's previous production of Doll House also suffered from curiously “updated” writing that required a massive suspension of disbelief. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now. This time Nora's exit “line” isn't a slammed door, but her exclamation that she thought the world would have changed in the intervening fifteen years but didn't, and that she hopes to live to see it. We're all still waiting.

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