Have you ever wondered what happened to Norwegian housewife Nora Helmer when she walked out of her home, leaving her family behind, in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House? So did playwright Lucas Hnath, so he set about writing a sequel to the once revolutionary, now classic play, some 130 years after the original—A Doll’s House, Part 2, now on the Asolo Rep stage.
You may have assumed that Nora, who was anything but trained to make her way in the world outside, fared badly, perhaps even dying (that assumption becomes a running joke of sorts in this play, set 15 years after her departure). But as the lights come up on Peter Amster’s production of Hnath’s play, we soon learn she’s had a very different fate.
Servant Anne Marie (Peggy Roeder) is the one who opens the door of the Helmer house (that famous door, in the spotlight, of course), now denuded of its pictures and most of its furniture, to the long-gone Nora (Kate Hampton), who looks quite well, thank you. In fact, she has become a successful writer with a number of lovers, penning books that deal with the plight of women like her, who were trapped in unhappy marriages and looking for a way out.
Problem is, Nora isn’t really out; husband Torvald (David Breitbarth, Hampton’s real-life spouse) never filed the divorce papers—not so much because he hoped Nora might come back, as because, in typical Torvald fashion, he couldn’t stand the embarrassment and humiliation. In the legal climate of the time, if Nora is still legally married to Torvald, everything she has gained financially in her independence actually still belongs to him. That’s adding insult to injury, for sure.
The one person who might be able to persuade Torvald to proceed with the divorce at this point is the Helmers’ youngest child, Emmy (Olivia Osol), now grown up and seemingly philosophical about her abandonment. But, like Nora, she does have a will of her own, and she wants to get married—which might prove impossible if her family is mired in a divorce scandal.
The setup gives plenty of room for Hnath to have his characters both utter contemporary dialogue and deliver more Ibsen-like speeches. When Nora or Emmy turns to the audience to make their cases for (Emmy) or against (Nora) the institution of marriage, the lighting and the mood alters…they and we step out of the scene a bit. It works well, and Hnath’s work never feels untrue to the original, even while he adds some humor to the proceedings.
The cast and director Amster navigate their way expertly back and forth between the world of Ibsen and the more modern take on a situation that still continues to haunt and daunt today, as well as between some very funny moments (many of them supplied by Roeder, with a sure sense of comic timing and delivery) and more poignant ones, as Nora and Torvald come face to face with the people they are now and how they got there. Robert Perdziola’s set and costume design, Christopher Ostrom’s lighting, and Michelle Hart’s skillful wig and make-up designs all play their part in engaging us in Hnath’s vision.
Hampton is often forceful as Nora, Breitbarth sometimes truly pitiable as Torvald, who has, after all, his own side of the story. And Osol, a third-year FSU/Asolo Conservatory student making her Asolo Rep debut here, meets and matches her more experienced co-stars onstage.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 continues in rotating rep through March 31; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.