BURLINGTON — In Henrik Ibsen’s classic “A Doll’s House,” Norma Helmer defies society and flees a stifling and emotionally abusive marriage, leaving children and safety behind. Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” postulates Nora returning 15 years later — but hardly begging forgiveness.
Vermont Stage Company’s production proved a delightfully entertaining and human mix of hurt and humor, feminism and feminism gone awry, and people just being people. Wednesday’s opening night performance also inaugurated the regional professional theater’s new home at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center Black Box.
Norway’s restrictions on women were particularly onerous at the end of the 19th century. Among other strictures, they weren’t allowed to enter into any kind of contract without the permission of their husbands. Should they attempt it, the contract was null and void. That got Nora into trouble — both times. (Incidentally, it is not necessary to know “A Doll’s House” to enjoy “Part 2.”)
When Nora comes knocking on the infamously slammed door of the original, only the nanny Anne Marie has been forewarned, and she’s not prepared for what ensues. Nora has unfinished business with Torvald, and seeks Anne Marie’s help convincing the husband she has left to bend to her ways. Anne Marie isn’t happy, not happy at all.
However, Anne Marie convinces Nora to seek help from the daughter she has abandoned. Emmy, it turns out, has Nora’s brains and feistiness but — no surprise — she’s loyal to her father. Torvald, despite warming and mellowing over the years, is totally at sea. What ensues is a comedy of human frailty.
In some productions of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” — it’s the most produced play in America this season — Nora comes across as a rigid and self-centered crusader, attempting to ruin a sensitive, wounded family. Director Margo Whitcomb avoided that trap, without changing a word, by giving all characters equal weight. As result, we see Nora as as lost as Torvald — it’s even endearing.
Vermont Stage’s production benefits from a universally excellent cast. Jena Necrason’s layered Nora went back and forth from sympathetic to not, dragging the audience along on her emotional roller coaster. Wayne Tetrick’s Torvald was an endearing mix of warmth and exasperation.
Clarise Fearn’s bright and sometimes bristling Emmy played off Nora, at once a mirror and everything her mother didn’t want her to be. Pivotal was Anne Marie, and Emme Erdossy was both powerful and funny as the most honest member of the household.
At Wednesday’s opening night performance, some of the blocking (physical movement) seemed a bit forced and synthetic, as did the choreographed curtain call. However, the four fine actors interacted seamlessly and intimately, as in fine chamber music. It was easy to get lost in this unexpected story.
Vermont Stage’s physical production certainly benefited from the new space, a large rectangular room (without the posts of FlynnSpace, its former home) that can be reconfigured in all sorts of ways. For this, the tiered audience was on three sides of a floor-level thrust. (There is also plenty of parking, and a bar-lounge open one hour prior to curtain.)
Jeff Modereger’s simple setting implied an elegant 19th-century room, with only a couple of chairs, settee and small table for furniture, and provided a perfect home for Suzanne Kneller’s period costumes. Effective lighting by John B. Forbes turned this into a home, while between scene piano music by Edvard Grieg, chosen by sound designer Dylan Friedman, completed the picture of drama and elegance.
Vermont Stage’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” mixes hard-hitting family intrigue with the irrepressible humor of human nature. It was sheer delight.