December 6, 2019

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Doorway to a new chapter

Sequel to Ibsen's classic tries to show how little in society has changed

Paul Essiembre and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Photo by Leif Norman)</p>

Paul Essiembre and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Photo by Leif Norman)

Teresa Pryzbylski’s set for A Doll’s House Part 2 feels both huge and minimalist: Three lone chairs are shuffled on the high, wide Royal MTC stage, and an arrangement of branches far above form a stark, Nordic canopy.

Behind it all, upstage, is a tall door, one that could accommodate a slender giant.

Kate Hennig and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Photo by Leif Norman)</p>

Kate Hennig and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Photo by Leif Norman)

It fits though. As doors go, this is a mythic one, the one Nora Helmer shut behind her when she left her husband Torvald and her three children in the conclusion of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. That slam sent shockwaves reverberating worldwide when Ibsen’s play was first performed in 1879.

Hence, yes, that door looms large.

Nevertheless, Nora (Deborah Hay) walks through it once again in this sequel by American playwright Lucas Hnath, who cheekily created a sequel to the 140-year-old drama to suggest things really haven’t changed all that much.

Fifteen years after taking her leave, Nora tries to surreptitiously engage her old nanny Anne-Marie (Kate Hennig) in approaching her husband Torvald (Paul Essiembre) about helping her avert another legal scandal. It emerges that Nora has become a successful writer, addressing the subject of how women such as herself can lose their identities within the institution of marriage.

When a vengeful judge investigates Nora’s background, he learns she is still technically married to Torvald, a fact that promises to entangle her in ruinous red tape unless she can convince Torvald to finalize the divorce.

Torvald has his own legal minefield to be navigated, it turns out. So when he proves unwilling, Nora is convinced by Anne-Marie to enlist Emmy (Bahareh Yaraghi), the now-grown daughter Nora painfully abandoned.

A co-production between Royal MTC and Toronto’s Mirvish Productions, this 90-minute piece (without intermission) rings a little peculiar, especially coming on the heels of the relatively straightforward production of Ibsen’s original, which just closed at the Tom Hendry Warehouse.

It retains some of the dramatic impact attendant to the Nora-Torvald conflict. But Hnath gives the work a sitcom wash to make a satiric point about how the gender war still rages unabated, despite Nora’s fervent belief that the institution of marriage has maybe a couple of decades left before it fades into obsolescence.

Director Krista Jackson accommodates this tweak mainly through the performance of Shaw Festival veteran Hay, who plays Nora with broadly comic touches in her expression and posture. If Nora always finds herself in absurd situations, it is suggested, it’s inevitable she might start behaving as a woman trapped in a never-ending dark comedy.

Bahareh Yaraghi and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Leif Norman photo)</p>

Bahareh Yaraghi and Deborah Hay in A Doll’s House, Part 2. (Leif Norman photo)

Also, Hnath allows some room to suggest Nora is not altogether a noble martyr, not just in her encounters with the still-aggrieved but more circumspect Torvald, but with her former nanny.

Anne-Marie, who stepped up to raise Nora’s children, nurses some justified class resentment regarding Nora’s choices. (Hennig does a neat job of balancing the warmth of Anne-Marie’s nature and the frost of her anger.)

Meanwhile, the chipper Emmy bears no apparent grudge against Nora’s escape, even as she herself prepares to enthusiastically tie the knot in her own upcoming nuptials.

The comic tone of the thing takes some accommodation from the audience, but it pays off in a climactic scene that sees Torvald utterly lose his composure in trying to come to terms with Nora. (Essiembre is delightful here.)

Still, clever as it may be, the play is ultimately an interesting footnote, an amusing riff riding in the slipstream of Ibsen’s still monumental achievement.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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