WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Nora Helmer’s back with a vengeance, but she’s not quite prepared for what she is confronted with.
Northern Stage has created a truly compelling production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” Lucas Hnath’s uber-popular imagining of Nora’s returning home, 15 years after the “door slam heard around the world.” Thursday’s preview performance at the Barrette Center for the Arts proved powerful and deeply touching — and also quite funny.
In Hnath’s 2017 play based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 drama, “A Doll’s House,” Nora returns to the house she walked out of. She left after husband Torvald had betrayed her by not supporting her after she put her life on the line for him. When Nora returns in “Part 2,” she is welcomed with open arms by her nanny Anne Marie, until the elderly woman realizes Nora’s purpose.
Nora, now a successful writer, has no intention of returning to the family. But her wealth and position is threatened because Torvald neglected to file divorce papers. (In 19th century Norway, married women weren’t allowed to sign contracts, to say nothing of have affairs.) The same single-mindedness that made Nora successful leads her to see only herself and her needs. Confrontations with Torvald, her feisty daughter Emmy and, of course, the loyal Anne Marie, lead to them coming to terms with each other.
Hnath’s Nora is seen very much through a 21st century rather than a 19th century lens. And his premise that Nora left a stifling marriage is flawed in that her stated and actual reason was that Torvald had let her down (which he certainly did). Rather than a feminist play, “A Doll’s House” is a tale of failed love. That said, "A Doll’s House, Part 2” is fascinating theater.
The Northern Stage production, directed by Peter Hackett, set the scene powerfully before the first word was spoken or the first character was seen. David L. Arsenault created a powerful atmosphere with his abstract and elegant set. Its simplicity put the focus on the characters and their plight. (A door motif seemed irrelevant, but it didn’t get in the way.)
Hackett chose to make all of the characters sympathetic and to tell their story simply and effectively. Robynn Rodriguez’ Nora was feisty and self-righteous — the character’s idea of a strong woman — but she allowed tiny cracks to show and bleed vulnerability. Stephen Lee Anderson created a dimensional Torvald, who worked through feeling lost, confused and angry, to a deeper understanding of himself and Nora.
Patti Perkins revealed Anne Marie, as loyal as she was, had been hurt and could stand up for herself. Monique St. Cyr, save for some comic silliness, delivered Emmy with the power that made her a convincing mirror to Nora.
The physical production was largely up to Northern Stage’s high standards. Creative lighting by Harold Burgess III cajoled the action, and particularly the scene changes, as did Emma Wilk’s oddball but innocuous sound design. Kate Fry’s pseudo-period costumes, save for Emmy’s noticeably incongruous getup (those shoes!), were beautifully apropos.
Northern Stage’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” featured insightful storytelling and excellent theater.