A Doll’s House Part 2

A Second Look at Nora’s Story    

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was written and first performed in 1879.  At the time, theatregoers were shocked at Nora.  How could a wife with a husband and three children, living in a perfect little doll house, possibly be unhappy?  Her husband, Torvald, would be called a “mansplainer” today. He treated her in such a condescending manner, until, at the conclusion of the play, she walked out the door.

Fast forward to 2017, when Lucas Hnath wrote A Doll’s House Part 2. Hnath sets his story 15 years later, when Nora returns to her doll’s house.  This sequel, for lack of a better term (but it’s not necessary to know the original story) is now on stage at the CAA Theatre in Toronto. 

Nora has had no contact with her husband and children in all those 15 years. Anne-Marie, the long-time nanny, opens the door for Nora and fails to recognize her at first.  It’s obvious that Nora has done well: she walks in wearing fashionable and expensive clothes.  She reports that she is a writer, and has used a pseudonym to tell the story of her marriage.

The play is 90 minutes long, with no intermission.  Each character demonstrates his or her reaction to Nora.  Anne-Marie bluntly tells her she is “pissed off” for having to raise Nora’s children.  Torvald is completely bewildered by her return, but continues to show his desire to dominate her.  Her daughter Emmy wants the opposite of her mother.  Not understanding why her mother walked out, Emmy wants a marriage and children.

The premise of A Doll’s House Part 2 creates a fascinating story, which can lead to discussions on feminism, with particular interest in the expected behaviours of men and women over the 15 years of Nora’s absence, and even the past 140 years.

But this particular production did not deliver on one key promise of its billing.  On the Mirvish website, the promotional material quoted reviews written about the Broadway version.  Accordingly, it was billed as a “smart, funny and utterly engrossing play” (The New York Times), and “delivers explosive laughs while also posing thoughtful questions about marriage, inequality and human rights” (Hollywood Reporter).  Unfortunately, the humour was missing – rarely was it funny, and there were no explosive laughs.

On Broadway, Laurie Metcalf (Sheldon’s hilarious mother on Big Bang Theory, and Roseanne’s sister on The Connors) won the 2017 Tony for best lead actress in a play for her portrayal of Nora.  Metcalf knows funny and it was her humour that led to the success of A Doll’s House Part 2.  Her counterpart in this Toronto production, Deborah Hay, also knows funny.   We’ve seen her on stage as a feisty, funny woman many times in the past:  as Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew at Stratford Festival, and as Eliza in My Fair Lady and Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Shaw Festival, for example.  But as Nora, her talents as a comedic actor are sadly underused.

Paul Essiembre gives the audience a starched, self-centred Torvald, not understanding why Nora would leave him.  Kate Hennig as Nanny Anne-Marie provides the only laughter (very muted) with her blunt comments.  Bahareh Yaraghi as Emmy gives a convincing performance as the daughter left behind who has learned to make up her own mind about her future.

The words spoken by the characters sometimes have an unusual cadence.  Are they trying to sound like the original A Doll’s House, which was translated from Norwegian, or is it a nod to the language used 140 years ago?  The intonation had me puzzled.

The set is stark, with bright red chairs covered by a white sheet in the opening scene.  The door is strangely tall, with an iron rebar cluster hanging at the top of the set – is it a dark cloud or a sculpture?  We learn that Torvald got rid of everything that belonged to Nora, leaving next to nothing in the room.

The characters each take a turn arguing with Nora.  Without humour, the message is lost in the confrontations, and the play simply doesn’t live up to its potential or its promise.

A Doll’s House Part 2 continues with eight shows a week at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario until April 14.  Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

Photo: Paul Essiembre as Torvald and Deborah Hay as Nora.  Photo by Leif Norman.

A Doll’s House Part 2 
By Lucas Hnath
Directed by Krista Jackson
Performed by Paul Essiembre, Deborah Hay, Kate Hennig, Bahareh Yaraghi.
Produced by David Mirvish with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
March 23 to April 14, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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