When Henrik Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House” in 1879, the shocking play created a tsunami in Scandinavia. How could a happily married woman with a devoted husband and two picture-perfect children want more? And yet Nora did – and left her husband and children to forge a life of her own outside of the confines of her socially accepted and eminently acceptable role in life. In the process, did society change as well? Clearly, the groundbreaking play struck a chord with playwright Lucas Hnath – and a sequel to the famed Ibsen play was the result.
A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 opens 15 years after Nora’s fateful decision to strike out on her own and find herself. Standing at the same doorway through which she exited 15 years before, Nora (Jennifer Shelton) is now knocking to re-enter her former residence and the life which it represented. Little has changed in the Helmer household. Nanny Anne Marie (Eileen T’Kaye) is still there after assuming the role of caretaker and mother-substitute for Nora’s children – now grown and ready to take on the adult roles which society has sketched out for them. Torvald (Scott Roberts), Nora’s ex-husband, remains alone while living out his unchanged and banal existence. Nora’s daughter Emmy (Nicolette Ellis) still lives at the family home while planning her own wedding to a banker. Will the prodigal Nora’s return make any difference in their lives? Or is Nora coming back for a reason – and not planning to stay?
This reviewer suspects that Ibsen would smile and nod appreciatively if he could see this “sequel,” a play which truly does continue the tale of a talented woman confined to a cage built bar by bar by a closed society unwilling to offer equal opportunities to men and women. But, at the same time, a society which is certain that the caged bird sings. Kudos to director Trevor Biship-Gillespie, who gently – and then not so gently – builds up to Part 2’s inevitable conclusion, while at the same time never letting the inherent humor in the situation go to waste. Through all the soul searching, A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 remains a clever, challenging, and biting comedy exploring women’s roles – and questions whether or not they have changed over the years.
The four actors do a bang-up job of portraying these conflicted characters as they navigate the maze of society’s expectations vs. personal growth. Yuri Okahana-Benson’s set is simple, giving a chance for words and ideas to shine. Donny Jackson’s lighting, Jeff Polunas’ sound, and Kimberly DeShavo’s costumes add just the right nuances to give dimension to the story. A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 does Hnath proud. This is a creative, clever, and very human account of people held captive by rules which they dare not defy – or do so at their own risk. This is a must-see play for everyone who loved “A Doll’s House” and for everyone who can’t get enough Ibsen. But it is more. A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 will entertain and amuse while poking holes in the social fabric and asking some important questions. Women’s roles have expanded in the past 100 years – and yet Hnath seems to question just how much – and ask if it is enough.
A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 runs through May 1, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802.Tickets are $49 (Thursdays through Saturdays) and $52 (Sundays). For information and reservations, call 562-436-4610 or go online.