"What Lucas Hnath has done in A Doll's House, Part 2 is nothing short of brilliant, and Stage West's regional premiere does it right."
by Jan Farrington
published Wednesday, October 31, 2018
"In its regional premiere at Stage West, Lucas Hnath’s surprising, ruefully funny, and entirely captivating sequel to the Ibsen original, A Doll’s House, Part 2, grabs us from the start and won’t let go. This is “must-see” theater, as compelling as a bonus episode for a long-gone TV series. Fifteen years later, here’s the Helmer family again—Nora, Torvald, the kids, the faithful housekeeper. And when the loud knock comes on the famous front door, we laugh out loud, knowing who it must be. Come in, Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do."
"Director Clare Shaffer’s tone is pitch-perfect and the pacing brisk—though she smartly makes room for the pained, drawn-out silences of real people saying difficult things. In the silences, we hear our own doubts, regrets, unease. Set designer Karlee Perego’s spare Scandinavian parlor, empty but for a few movable chairs and a hat rack, gives us a clue to the current state of affairs: Nora’s piano is gone, her paintings taken from the walls and never replaced. Only their darker-toned shadows remain on the wall to tell us something was there. Tamara Harris’ lighting design is bold and bright, dimming only to mark the play’s divisions—each titled for particular characters, the names writ large across the wall in flowing script. (Calligraphy by digital artist Jacob Rivera-Sanchez; sound designer/projection engineer Jorge Flores made the writing move, and added a lovely pen-scratch sound effect to go with it.)"
"McGrann is a terrific Nora—edgy, smart, funny, proud of herself—and visibly nervous. She’s in a spot of trouble and has come to ask Torvald for help. From the lift of an eyebrow to a habit of smoothing her dress (is it a reset move, putting herself back in control?) there’s a lot of telling physical detail to McGrann’s characterization. Splendid in designer Jeremy Bernardoni’s jewel-toned traveling suit, Nora moves as if she were wearing jeans and a sweatshirt: lifting chairs like a stagehand, lounging sideways in a chair with her legs flipped over the arm, sitting straight-legged on the floor with a flask. She’s confident and worldy-wise…but being “back” is clearly more complicated than she’d thought."
"Torvald (an excellent J. Brent Alford) looks like an upright citizen in his swallow-tailed coat, but admits he feels “shaky” to find Nora in the parlor. Torvald is hard to read (has he learned anything over all these years?) but Alford’s sharply drawn portrait tells us there’s anger and hurt under the surface. Torvald has been waiting for years to say his piece."
"Could daughter Emmy (Amber Marie Flores) shake things up? Flores, poised and pulled in tight, is cool as ice to Nora, but lets her anger out in tiny controlled bursts, like steam from a closed pot. Did she miss her mother? “I’m better at life because you were gone,” Emmy retorts. She doesn’t read books, thanks, and is quite happy to be planning an early marriage. “I want to be possessed,” she says, in a quiet, devastating rejection of Nora’s own choice. It’s from Emmy that we hear the most detailed counter-argument to Nora’s ideas, culminating in a line about the future so cutting that there was a murmur from the audience."
"As Nora’s life and decisions become tangled with the family (and with Anne Marie, who reminds Nora she gave up her own child for the job she needed to survive—working women’s choices being starker than the ones Nora faced), we wait to see if Nora will be tempted, for safety’s sake, by a smaller life…or strike out on her own determined journey again. Hnath keeps us weighing her choices—and on the edge of our seats—until the very end."
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