A Doll’s House, Part 2
Presented by David Mirvish with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Krista Jackson
Set and costume design by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting design by Michael Walton
Sound design by Michael Wright
Featuring Paul Essiembre, Deborah Hay, Kate Hennig, Bahareh Yaraghi
At the CAA Theatre in Toronto
When Nora Helmer famously slammed the door in her husband’s face at the conclusion of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A Doll’s House, it was in the winter of 1879, the play being set contemporaneously in timeframe with its debut. As Nora’s action was somewhat precipitous (as well as courageous) – after eight years of unhappy marriage to her husband Torvald – we are still left wondering what she now intends to do with her life after that dramatic exit. One imagines her stepping out onto that cold icy sidewalk in the middle of a Norwegian winter carrying nothing but a small suitcase and a vague notion of where she might spend the night and begin her new future. Freezing wind chill tends to quickly focus the mind in such situations.
Apparently, for Nora this new future included living her own life the way she wanted to live it. Taking lovers both old and young and becoming famous and making a lot of money. Laudable goals with odds greatly stacked against success. Now, fifteen years after her departure from her husband’s house, Nora returns, having achieved most of her material needs but with a problem that is legalistic on the surface but morally tenuous around the fault lines of social and economic realities. This is the clever conceit that drives Lucas Hnaths’ retelling of the tale which seeks out Ibsen’s original intentions and then interrogates them in the light of day with the original participants fifteen years hence.
Torvald Helmer (Paul Essiembre), Nora (Deborah Hay), Anne-Marie (the housekeeper then and now played by Kate Hennig) and Emmy (Bahareh Yaraghi), Torvald and Nora’s daughter who was only a small presence in the original but a shrewd observer in the present scenario – all have their chance to argue with Ibsen, Hnath and themselves. And herein lies the major problem with this production. Are they arguing in earnest or in jest? For real or in parody of the original play which was very earnest, indeed as were most of Ibsen’s plays.
If they are presenting a parody, with a mug, a wink and a nod for the audience to join in the fun, then Deborah Hay’s Nora certainly carries the day. I did not see the original Broadway production that featured Laurie Metcalf (a skilled comedian) as Nora, but the reviews would indicate that there was a certain playfulness about her performance that elicited laughter throughout. However, if the intent – and perhaps this is directoral – is to seriously engage the audience with the arguments in the play, then the jokes would not come so easily. This is the acting style that tends to guide the performances of Essiembre, Hennig and Yaraghi throughout. But someone needs to make a decision here and get everybody on the same page.
Still and all, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is an absorbing play that opens far more doors than it slams shut.