A Doll’s House written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 was a controversial play that challenged societal and theatrical institutions. Ibsen is known as the father of realism and A Doll’s House along with his other great works are the reason for that label. In that play we see Nora, a devoted wife and mother, struggle with a secret she has long held. With it’s reveal and her husbands reaction, she learns that her value to him lies in her subservience, in her being exactly what he wants her to be. At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her Husband and Children to begin a life of her own. The play was shocking at the time, now it resembles any play you might see. In the later half of the 19th century it was a daring exploration of gender roles and the rights of women. You can see why Ibsen is seen as one of the most influential playwrights of his time. A Doll’s House, Part 2 was written by Lucas Hnath in 2017 and picks up the story 15 years later when Nora returns. This is the story that unfolds at the Jungle Theater this winter.
Nora played by Christina Baldwin, has come back because she needs something from Torvald played by Steven Epp, the husband she left. She first meets with Anne Marie played by Angela Timberman, the family Nanny who is still with Torvald even though the children have grown beyond the need for a nanny. She will also meet her daughter Emmy played by Megan Burns, who she hopes can assist her in getting Torvald to give her what she needs. And of course she must confront Torvald himself. What is fascinating about this play, is pointed out by Jungle Theater’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen in her Welcome message at the front of the program. She quotes a mentor of hers who used to say “in a good play, everyone is right”, and this play is the perfect illustration of that idea. As each character gives their perspective on the past, the present, and society, we believe their point of view has merit. This is a play that while not as revolutionary as the original, how could it be, is perhaps a more inclusive examination of gender roles and societies attitudes towards relationships. It can afford to be, because it is written in a different world than Ibsen was writing back in 1879. In A Doll’s House Nora sees the world for all it’s biases and chooses to defy them and claim personhood for herself. It is a critique of society and the lack of rights for women. At the time, as hard as that is to comprehend now, that went against what society deemed acceptable. The new story continues those themes through Nora’s character. But it also delves into less black and white areas of the conversation. We see what Anne Marie’s views on the subject are and also what Emmy and Torvald believe. They all have their own truths and what makes the play seem real is we can understand and believe that each of their truths are right, for them.
So far this sounds like a a drama full of big ideas right. What was surprising and refreshing was the astonishing amount of humor in the play. From the opening credits, that’s right credits, you know this is not your Mother’s a Doll’s House. This is not a modern updating of the material it is still the late 1800’s but it’s is filtered through our 21st Century Aesthetic. The performances are modern as is the language. The entire cast is exceptional. Baldwin shines whether she is espousing her ideals or drawing out our laughs with her reactions to the other characters speeches. One moment she is rousing our sense of indignation, the next she is breaking our hearts. Timberman plays Anne Marie in a way that at first we believe she is more or less there as comic relief, but in an instance we are shown that there is more there than just laughs. At one point she elicits laughs while also making us feel the sacrifices she has made for this family. Epp plays Torvald as a slightly less confident version than we usually see in A Doll’s house. At first I was unsure of that approach, but as the play progressed I understood that this was a man who had his confidence shaken 15 years ago. He is also a man who has thought about the things Nora said before she walked out the door. He is also playing a man who has had a shock and isn’t really dealing with it very well. All of this is played truthfully, there is an emotionality to it that makes him a much more human character than Ibsen gave us, which speaks to that quote that everyone is right. But as with the entire cast he finds so much humor in the way he plays the part, but never at the cost of his characters truth. Megan Burns turn as Emmy is the smallest role but she makes an impression in her scene. She matches Baldwin’s ability to turn the situation around, convincingly making arguments that ring true while also bringing laughs. Many of the laughs in the play come from the way these actors read the lines and react to each others. The play is definitely meant to be serious and comic, but I think all four of these actors find more laughs through their performances than were there on the page, and they are very welcome laughs.
The direction by Joanie Schultz is bold. There are music and projection choices that scream 2020, but they work, without taking us out of the period of the play. Everyone behind the scenes has done a great job with this production, the Scenic Design by Chelsea M. Warren is spare but effective and fitting for the script. This is a play that focuses on the interaction between the characters, we do not need a fully dressed set to bring these characters world to life. The design works perfectly with the text projection that appears throughout the performance. The Sound Design by Sean Healey also brings an effective juxtaposition between the period the play is set in and our modern times. I am not a person that usually takes a lot of notice of costuming, but I really dug Mathew J. Lefebvre’s work here. My favorite was Nora’s purple outfit, it is sleek and stylish, it instantly shows us that Nora has been successful in the 15 years since the ending of a Doll’s House.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a worthy follow up to one of the great plays of the last 200 hundred years. The Jungle theater has assembled a cast that brings depth and humor to this play, each actor finding their characters’ truth and convincing us of it as well. This is a night out that will keep you thinking and give you much to talk about after you leave the theater, but it will do it while also making you laugh, a lot! It plays through February 23rd at the Jungle Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets go to www.jungletheater.org