Surprises when Nora returns for a divorce

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Berger as Nora and Williams as Torvald, Photo: Shelly Higgs

Theatre / “A Doll’s House Part 2” by Lucas Hnath, directed by Caroline Stacey. At The Street Theatre, until June 23. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

THIS exceedingly wordy play begins with a loud knock at the door and ends up with a very quiet closure – worlds away from the dramatic conclusion of its antecedent, Henrik Ibsen’s play, “A Doll’s House“.

This is  neither fanfiction nor cutting-edge futurism. Rather playwright Lucas Hnath has taken the characters forward 15 years to 1894, when Nora Helmer is no longer a pretty little housewife searching for a “miracle”, but a mature woman.

Now a successful writer, she is, in the hands of comedian Rachel Berger, a self-confident smooth-talker, proposing the rights of women to free expression with extravagant flourishes of the hand, which become less extravagant as uncertainty sets in.

Berger as Nora and Blunden as Anne Marie, Photo: Shelly Higgs

Hnath’s play flirts with Ibsen’s famous drama in a sequence of five loosely-linked duologues titled by character, without a strong scent of plotting.

Briefly, Nora has come back to the former family home for a divorce, necessitated by an unpersuasive scenario involving a disaffected judge who has to expose her as a non-divorced woman.

It was fortunate for the audience that Aarne Neeme had staged the original Ibsen some months ago at Theatre 3, for while this purports to be a stand-alone play, the opening scene where Nora arrives “home” necessitates lengthy and awkward periods of exposition as she and her former nanny, Anne Marie, (Camilla Blunden) go over the past 15 years.

In a revolving doors set of duologues, only the linking scenes involve multiple characters. This facilitates free debate on the relative merits of freedom and personal expression, “natural” family order and the rights of children are played out on Imogen Keen’s unforgiving Scandinavian noir set, thrust diagonally towards the audience in an almost operatic manner.

Director Caroline Stacey makes a deliberate break with the realism of Ibsen’s play that permits a dialectic exchange, giving the whole play a very contemporary feel. Less convincing was Hnath’s articulate blend of formal dialogue with awkward colloquialisms such as “okay,” and “pissed off”, with which the actors seemed ill at ease.

Constantine as Emmy and Berger as Nora. Photo: Shelly Higgs.

As the play proceeds, Nora and Anne-Marie posit a number of alternatives to solve the problem of the offstage judge. Later, in what used to be called the “scène a faire” (the “obligatory” scene, where mother and daughter meet) Nora’s self-possessed and pragmatic daughter Emmy proposes yet another solution. Dressed in a ravishing gown designed by Keen, actor Lily Constantine’s short scene as Emmy leaves a chilling effect.

Caught in the middle is the hapless husband, Torvald Helmer, seemingly just as mystified by Nora’s spectacular walk-out 15 years ago. By now an ageing man, outnumbered, outwitted and confused, as played by PJ Williams, he commands considerably more sympathy than his younger counterpart did.

But it runs out that Nora is confused as well, and in the end, down on the hard wooden floor of reality, she and Torvald achieve a moment of understanding.

This time when she leaves, it is not with a bang, but with a quiet sense that a very complex world faces them all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Helen Musa
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