October 7, 2019
125 years later…the next chapter is told
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
For millions of theatre-goers over the past 140 years, Henrik Ibsen’s unanswered question has been ‘what happened to Nora’ after her ‘door slam heard ‘round the world?’ In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, there was such an explosion of controversy over the play’s theme, that the aftershock question took time to develop.
Fast forward to 2017, and Lucas Hnath’s burning desire to give audiences a sequel to Ibsen’s exiting Nora. A Doll’s House Part 2 stands on its own merits. However, having Iowa Stage Theatre Company boldly pair these two works during the three-week repertory run is how this company separates itself from other producing entities. Each production can be savored for its own superb production values. Together, they are a tour de force.
Hnath spans generations, a prolific and highly praised playwright in today’s world. Social evolution changed the cultural landscape from Nora’s imagined world, where patrons attended theater to affirm their values and their ways of life. Ibsen shook the very foundation of his world with A Doll’s House. Hnath now delivers some aftershocks to Ibsen’s bare boards earthquake.
This 90-minute, no-intermission play begins with a persistent knocking at the imposing front door to a sparsely appointed Victorian home. The selective elements adorning the set – a hobby horse, a bird cage, a pictureless frame and stand, a drum – all become subliminal chess pieces in the bigger game to play out. With bustling, huffing, and puffing exposing her perpetual exhaustion, Anne Marie (Cheryl Clark) responds to the knocking with “Hold on, I’m coming.” Her shock at finding her long lost mistress, Nora (Kerry Skram), puts her in a fluster. Nora, dressed as the successful woman she has become, strides into her home. Their scene reveals much about Nora’s missing years and her reason for returning. After Anne Marie’s assurances that Torvald is busy at work and won’t be home, Torvald (Tom Geraty), of course, makes his entrance, having forgotten some paperwork. Their exchanges crackle with tension, melt with resolve, rebuild conflict. Nora needs her husband to complete his promise and grant her a divorce. She cannot conduct her business if still legally wed. Her career will be ruined.
Neither Anne Marie nor Torvald will help with her request to complete the divorce. Nora reaches out to her daughter, Emmy (Ashley Schaeffer), eliciting the strongest interactions. Emmy confronts Nora with a confident resolve that challenges her feminist position. These two are forces of will combating each other, each striving for dominance, each with her own I-am-woman power. The culmination is telling in a how much has anyone won way.
Jodi Jinks brings a seductive energy to A Doll’s House Part 2 through her direction, choreographing the action, employing creative devices to achieve her goals. Her players’ use of the set pieces and props enhances motivations. There are subtle surreal aspects employed throughout, such as having characters play outside the established half-wall of Jay Jagim’s exquisite design, breaking the “fourth wall.” This was interesting, especially when on the outside, as the characters used the half-wall as a seat.
Kerry Skram gives us a Nora we care about. A Nora, despite her irrevocable life choice, still is tethered to family. Audiences will understand her inner conflicts. Geraty’s Torvald squirms in his life’s trap, giving us layers of conflict bristling with ranging emotions. Schaeffer brings a radiant energy to her Emmy, strength, confidence and a wonderful facetted reflection of her mother. Clark’s Anne Marie delights with her bluster and Edith Bunker-like dithering, yet with an underlying sense of deep-seated regrets worn smooth from time.
Hnath’s play gives Jinks and her talented quartet a wonderful vehicle through which to explore relationships, and the cost of choices. Everything has a price to be paid. While this show stands on its own merits, patrons pairing it with Ibsen’s show, especially sequentially, will be richly rewarded.
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