Barbra Wengerd and Leif Norby in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’
Part 2: Fuck you, Nora!
There’s really only one way Nora Helmer can come through the door she notoriously stormed out of 15 years previously at the end of A Doll’s House — and director Rose Riordan nailed it.
On a darkened stage at the top of the show is a furious rapping at the door. The maid Anne-Marie (a brassy, hilarious Leslie O’Carroll) yells to hold on and the doors fly open, mystic smoke a-swirlin’.
In comes Nora, all fabulous, wearing an outrageous red and green dress that looks like those gaucho pants from the ’80s crossed in a temporal vortex with Versailles’ finest tailors. Her blonde hair is a work of art, a preposterous hat pinned precariously to the top.
It’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, and she’s got some ’splainin’ to do!
After the Hollywood theatrics die down a bit, Nora (flamboyantly played by Barbra Wengerd), toys with Anne-Marie as to where she’s been and what she’s been up to. This is the same Anne-Marie, of course, who had to pick up the pieces and raise all four of the Helmers’ children after Nora up and left following her marital epiphany. Her interest in seeing Nora after all these years is limited at best, and she gives up trying to guess how Nora has become successful and wealthy.
According to playwright Lucas Hnath, she did it by writing best-selling books for ladies, at least one of which is essentially the story of Nora and Torvald all those years ago. Yes, Hnath’s 2017 play takes plenty of liberties with language and plot, but he eventually gives us what we want when Torvald comes home from the office early and finds Nora waiting.
A bare room
We’re in the same home in a small town in Norway, presumably around 1895, but there’s no furniture left in the home. The drapes are gone, the paintings that once hung on the wall seen only through the palimpsest of their absence. Gone, too, are the children who once romped through the rooms. Grown up, we’re told, although if memory serves the baby from the original play would be 16 at most.
No one has heard a peep from Nora in the years since her disappearance, and Anne-Marie lets her know it was no picnic with the brooding, wounded Torvald (Leif Norby — Dr. Rank from the original — in a stellar performance). He never remarried, didn’t speak at all for some time, and still toiled away at the bank after enduring the shame of having to explain Nora’s absence. Ultimately, the story got around that she was dead, and Torvald didn’t bother to correct anyone.
But now, Nora needs something: a divorce. In the course of her affairs, she gets in Dutch with a judge whose wife took Nora’s “marriage sucks” book a bit too literally and dumped his ass. When he looks into who was behind Nora’s nom de plume, it turned out the brazenly single author was still, in fact, married.
Legally, at least. And for a variety of reasons she explains to Anne-Marie, that has to be corrected.
It should come as no surprise that Torvald is not at all disposed to help her with anything.
Nora & Torvald’s guide to marriage
This is a very funny play, especially in the first half (it’s presented with no intermission). Hnath has a good time having Anne-Marie and Torvald rake Nora over the coals — they both say “Fuck you, Nora!”at different points. It turns out that toying with a theatrical stalwart like A Doll’s House is surprisingly rife with comic potential.
But the real meat of the play comes when the baby, Emmy, shows up and sets something else in motion. Played by Anastasia Davidson (Kristine in Part 1), Emmy is clearly older than 16 but A Doll’s House, Part 2 is clearly not entirely literal. (How have the Helmer’s survived all these years without furniture? Or drapes? Or the cuckoo clock?) Davidson plays Emmy as a sort of Stepford child, a robotic weirdo who claims to harbor no animosity toward the mother who abandoned her and is merely curious about why she’s blown into town.
With Torvald’s obstinance and Nora’s choices narrowing, Emmy presents a third option that ominously mirrors the original sin from the source material.
Offstage, there’s some interesting stuff going on at the town clerk’s office involving certain documents, but the details of all that — while pretty funny — are secondary to the final showdown between Nora and Torvald.
This is where Hnath’s script really shines. In picking up the pieces from the first play and trying to have the two principals reassemble them years later, he ends up having them dissect the very existence of marriage. Nora, we know from her books, has already found it to be a stupid thing she happily tossed aside. Torvald, for different reasons, also left marriage in his wake. But the impact of those choices on the two have had profound effects.
Nora has a fascinating bit of dialogue where she describes having to almost literally retreat to the wilderness to silence the voices of her father and Torvald in her head. Both of them, she says, were always there questioning her every action, commenting, judging.
Torvald, pissed as he was, seems to find himself agreeing with Nora about the futility not just of marriage but of ever really figuring out how to be with people.
Norby and Wengerd are a delight to watch together on stage. She’s a headstrong loon and he’s an all-pro Gloomy Gus. But the pieces of their former life together, the ones that worked, seem to settle around their shoulders like fairy dust. Or dandruff. You can almost see them deciding to get back together.
Nah! Not gonna happen. But Riordan has a lot of fun with them physically on stage. At one point they’re chasing each other in wheeled chairs and, in the end, they end up in a defeated heap next to one another on the floor. And when Nora, as she must, whirls out the door once again and the cast returns for the curtain call, it’s a celebration we can all get on board with.
And now, it seems, we can close the book on A Doll’s House. But this double-header is a blast to watch — a theatrical extravaganza that delights and surprises at every turn.