By Kimberly Rau
To start off, here’s all you need to know about Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” written in 1879: When the under-estimated Nora finally had enough of life as she knew it and walked out, leaving her husband, Torvald, and three small children behind, it was revolutionary. Of course, as Nora would say (and does, in this sequel), she was only doing what countless men have done before, it’s just that when a woman does it, it’s the end of the world.
So what happens after the world ends? Lucas Hnath’s Part 2 seeks to answer those questions. On paper, it’s a tight script and compelling story. In the hands of director Fred Sullivan Jr. and an extremely talented cast, it’s an electric piece of theater.
The story picks up more than a decade after the first ends, when Nora, now a successful writer, is forced to return to her husband to tie up some loose ends. It turns out she never did get that divorce she’d asked for, and that could spell significant trouble with the law, as well as ruin her professional reputation. The folks back home are somewhat surprised to see she hasn’t starved or remained penniless. Nora seems to expect that she’d return home at least somewhat forgiven, but Torvald, for his part, seems to be disinclined to make anything easier for his estranged spouse and flatly refuses to grant her a divorce. The family’s longtime caretaker, Anne Marie, is reluctant to stick her neck out for Nora, but suggests that Nora’s youngest, Emmy, might be able to convince her father to change his mind. Unfortunately, it turns out, strong women beget shrewd daughters, and Emmy has a vested interest in keeping the status quo, and her dreams are distinctly different from her mother’s. The unraveling of the lapsed 15 years and the inevitable explosive confrontation between Torvald and Nora make for extremely good theater.
Jeanine Kane plays the outspoken and angry Nora, putting so much passion in her words that it’s impossible not to feel outrage on her behalf (though given the inequalities that still exist between the sexes, if you’re not mad, you’re not paying attention). As she spends an hour and a half trying to outwit Torvald, it would be easy to see her as manipulative, even cruel, but Kane makes sure not to let you. Her desperation to find a better world and make it accessible to her daughter is palpable; her utter dismay when she cannot is real. Steve Kidd opposite her as Torvald is equally dynamic. He gives his character enough regret to make him sympathetic, but Torvald’s absolute inability to still hear his wife (at least until the very end) makes all of Nora’s actions understandable. I did not get to see Gamm’s production of A Doll’s House, but after watching those two reprise their roles in this production, I sincerely wish I had. Debra Wise as the aging and ailing Anne Marie is hilarious, and Alison Russo as Emmy is genius casting. Russo and Kane play opposite each other in such a way that you can’t help but see the mother–daughter similarities, which in turn makes it impossible to take sides.
At an hour and a half, the play moves, and the intentionally modern-sounding language serves to remind us that these “old-fashioned” problems are just as relevant today. The entire thing takes place on a simple but beautiful set designed by Patrich Lynch, and David T. Howard’s costumes are breathtaking. In short, this is an unexpected (who tends to sing a sequel’s praises?) but truly stunning piece of theater, and a delightful start to Gamm’s 35th season. Don’t miss out.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs through Oct. 6 at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets start at $45 and may be obtained at the box office, online at gammtheatre.org, or by calling 401.723.4266.