Nora Returns 15 Years After Slamming That Door
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage, 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220
Performances: February 4 – 27, 2022
Ticket Prices: $36-$56. Discounted group rates and rush tickets available.
Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org
If Nora and Torvald were on social media, there is no doubt their relationship status would be, “It’s Complicated.” When Nora walked out of the home she shared with her husband Torvald at the end of Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House (1879) it was described as “the slam heard ‘round the world.” Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children was so scandalous Ibsen was forced to write an alternate ending. For 138 years people were left to ponder what happened to Nora.
In 2017 American playwright Lucas Hnath provided us with some of the answers. A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins with a knock on the door – the same door Nora slammed in 1879. Opening the door to self-exploration was also an open invitation for scandalous speculation and unstoppable feminist progress. Hnath has Nora return after a fifteen year absence to settle some unfinished business.
It is both fascinating and satisfying to see Katrinah Carol Lewis, who played Nora in a 2018 production at what was then TheatreLab, The Basement. In December 2018 I described Lewis’ performance as Nora as one of her most highly charged among many challenging roles. “With her naturally large eyes accented by makeup, and in the intimate space of The Basement, it was easy to see every nail biting emotion, to hear every breath, to practically feel her trembling.” [Follow this link to read my entire review of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: https://jdldancesrva.com/2018/12/08/a-dolls-house-well-shut-the-door/.]
Nora in 1894 is no trembling bride. Her first knock at the door is confident; the second is commanding. She wears the finest clothes, and sits with her legs spread apart and leaning forward, forearms resting on her thighs, in her straight-backed chair. In many ways, both financial and experiential, this older and wiser Nora has achieved success. But as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that in more ways than she would like, the new Nora has retained much of the old Nora.
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is not a prerequisite for Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. There are plenty of references to Ibsen’s work to fill in the essential background, but if you are familiar with the original, and even better, if you have seen Lewis in the original, it is a much more fulfilling journey.
Lewis and David Bridgewater, who plays Torvald in this new production, circle around each other like wary cats, avoiding physical contact – or even eye contact – until their climactic scene in the final third of the play. Then their explosive interaction reveals to the audience that what Nora has endured in search of the elusive “true marriage,” a marriage of equals, was right under her nose the entire time. In one fleeting moment, the estranged couple drop their masks, we glimpse the manifestation of what she always wanted, and before we can fully absorb it, before we can get all sentimental about it, it is gone – and so is she. Again. While A Doll’s House, Part 2 answers many questions raised in the original, it leaves us with just as many, if not more, than we had before.
Everything in A Doll’s House, Part 2 has been pared down. The set consists of two elegantly painted or papered walls, a gigantic door, two formal straight-backed chairs, and a small table holding a vase of flowers. The little details that make the space a home have been omitted – or, as Anne Marie says, anything that belonged to Nora was thrown away when she left. The cast has been pared down to just two leading actors (Lewis and Bridgewater) and two supporting actors: Catherine Shaffner as the beleaguered nanny turned housekeeper, Anne Marie and Katy Feldhahn as the Helmer’s youngest child, Emmy. The play itself has been paired down, from Ibsen’s three acts and two intermissions to a 90-minute production performed without intermission.
What has not been pared down is the family dysfunction. Emmy, who has spent the better part of her life without a mother is so much like Nora it’s shocking. As a child, Emmy asked her two older brothers to tell her what they remembered about their missing parent. It may be a genetic or spiritual connection but neither of them seems to be aware of it – or, perhaps, it is just their habit to deny the obvious. Shaffner, in the role of Anne Marie who raised young Nora as well as her children, provides important connecting links between the past and the present, as well as a few welcome comedic outbursts of foul language.
Sharon Ott’s direction retains the main characters’ affectations and packs a lot of emotions and family drama into a much shorter production time. Although there did seem to be a bit of a lull bnear the end of the first half, Emmy’s appearance turned up the heat – and her Option 3 turned the tables on Nora.
Nora and Torvald are not likeable people, but they are familiar. We know people with some of their least likable characteristics. They are members of our own families and sometimes they are us. A Doll’s House, both the original and Part 2, was not intended to give the viewer a satisfying or happy ending. Both make us question gender, marriage, institutions, laws, and systems. They force us to look at the familiar from new perspectives and encourage us to question why we accept things the way they are – and consider what might happen if we walk out the door, or even knock it off its hinges.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
A Doll’s House, Part 2
By Lucas Hnath
Nora Katrinah Carol Lewis
Torvald David Bridgewater
Anne Marie Catherine Shaffner
Emmy Katy Feldhahn
Nora Understudy Donna Marie Miller
Torvald Understudy David Watson
Anne Marie Understudy Lisa Kotula
Emmy Understudy Sharaia Hughes
Direction & Design
Direction Sharon Ott
Assistant Director Cam Nickel
Scenic Design Katherine Field
Costume Design Sue Griffin, Marcia Miller Hailey
Lighting Design BJ Wilkinson
Sound Design Jacob Mishler
Stage Management Shawanna Hall
Box Office: 804-282-2620
Ticket prices range from $36 – $56/
Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets are available.
The play runs about one hour and 35 minutes with no intermission
Here’s a little video teaser:
Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten [production photos were not yet available at the time of publication] NOTE: Photos updated February 8, 2022.
Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines
To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.
Patrons must show your vaccination card or a photo of the card on your phone, along with a valid photo ID, when you arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.
Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.
In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.
At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.
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