It’s one of the most produced plays across the country this year and Lucas Hnath’s Tony Award winning “A Doll’s House, Part 2” already has two engagements scheduled at Connecticut theatres. It is currently running at Theaterworks in Hartford and will be produced at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre in May. This four-character, one-set, 90 minute (no intermission) play is catnip for theatres on a budget and it’s also timely enough to resonate with the #MeToo movement. Feminism never looked so relevant.
Lucas Hnath’s supremely clever takes place 15 years after Henrik Ibsen’s famous heroine, Nora, slammed the door on her conventional life as wife and mother in “A Doll’s House”. Upon its release in 1879, Ibsen’s notorious drama scandalized Norway at a time when married women were told their place in society and most readily stayed in their husband’s shadow. Hnath’s Nora is now older and wiser, a successful businesswoman who has returned to husband, Torvald, with a matter that only he can solve. It’s still very much a man’s world as Nora will soon realize.
Sometimes it’s problematic for a critic who sees several productions of a play and has definite preferences and opinions of what works and what doesn’t. Being familiar with the Broadway original (where the terrific Laurie Metcalf won a Tony Award playing Nora) and, more recently, having seeing the luminous Lalia Robins play the same role in Barrington Stage’s production last summer, I found “A Doll’s House, Part 2” a little lacking in Hartford. The play is one of debate and when that argument between husband and wife finally reaches full boil at the play’s climax, it can be a thrill to watch. But, given the talky nature of the drama, if not paced properly or acting with passion and conviction, the drama can just sit and stew in its polemics.
At TheaterWorks, director Jenn Thompson has a game if uneven cast. Tasha Lawrence, so fine as the title character in Long Wharf’s “The Roommate” last fall, handles Hnath’s speeches well and controls the stage with a commanding presence. Hers is a Nora who has obviously grown in stature since leaving 15 years ago, but what’s missing is the class and privilege the character has at her core. We see the fight in Nora but not her breeding which is the essence of her character. More successful is Sam Gregory who makes a fine, perplexed and often amusing Torvald. But, as noted, the major confrontation at the play’s climax between wife and husband is awkwardly staged and unsatisfying even as the final moments of the drama remain quite touching. As Nora’s daughter, Kira Player is a tad flat and lacks energy that is more than made up for by Amelia White, as a lively Anne Marie, Torvald’s housekeeper.
First rate costuming is providing by Alejo Vietti and Alexander Dodge’s highly-polished setting is only done a disservice by the odd inclusion of florescent windows which switch on noisily for attention-grabbing scene changes. Whether this is the fault of Dodge or designer Philip Rosenberg (whose lighting also has more than its share of shadows), it’s an unnecessary distraction to an otherwise commendable set. In all, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is still worth seeing for its provocative premise and contemporary debate.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” continues at Theaterworks through February 24. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.