By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
The stage is dominated by a door, a giant door. The room has the outlines of wainscoting and six sealed windows — all bleached out, painted over, uninhabited.
There’s no human clutter: a couple of chairs, an end table, the only decor a box of Kleenex, a wry touch. So many things in life end in tears. This play isn’t one of them.
A Doll’s House Part 2 will, however, stick with you; it’ll open doors you won’t easily be able to close. Just when you think you know what you think, there’s more for you to think about. Which is another way of saying that the Wild Side production that launches the Edmonton season is an absorbing, funny, surprising evening in the theatre. And the four expert actors in the ensemble production directed and designed by Jim Guedo make a meal of it — creating characters who are alert, thinking on their feet, listening, asserting, countering, defending their points of view, airing their grievances.
So, back to the door. The insistent knock at that door in the opening scene of Lucas Hnath’s play, the young American playwright’s Broadway debut in 2017, reverberates backward in time, 150 years or so, to the equally insistent slam of that door in the closing moment of Ibsen’s 1879 portrait of a suffocating marriage in A Doll’s House. One of the repertoire’s most intriguing, lingering questions, what happened next?, is about to be answered, and in modern language.
Nora (Kristi Hansen), who walked out the door 15 years before, leaving marriage, husband, and children behind, wants back in. What’s she been doing? Why is she back?
And as Hansen stands on the threshold, you see that Nora isn’t crawling back. Far from it. She’s looking supremely unapologetic and confident, self-assured enough to be playful with the old family retainer Anne Marie (Maralyn Ryan). “You want to know what I’ve been up to, but I want to know what you thought I was doing — what did you imagine?” she cajoles. “Come on — keep guessing — this is fun.” She speaks for the audience in that.
The language of the play is contemporary, and so is the lexicon of Hansen’s body language — the way she tilts her head and leans in to a conversation, the hand gestures, the grimaces and skeptical eye-rolls.
“I feel like I’m being set up,” says the stalwart Anne Marie. In Ryan’s compelling and funny performance she’s shrewd and far from bowled over by the success story and feminist pep talk she hears from the Nora who’s been knocking at the door and now wants something. Soon Anne Marie will be saying “fuck you, Nora, fuck you,” and you’ll know you’re not in Victorian era Norway any more even if the costumes say otherwise.
Anyhow, I don’t want to tell you too much; there’s fun in this fast and furious “sequel” in your discoveries, along with the characters, scene by scene. But you learn pretty quickly that Nora has become a very successful writer — of radical women’s novels that argue against marriage. And she’s back to get husband Torvald’s help in the legal predicament in which she’s found herself blackmailed.
In the terms of modern feminism — an era that Ibsen’s play has often been credited with kickstarting — Nora’s arguments about inequality in marriage and divorce, and individual fulfilment, have enduring cred, of course. And the world hasn’t exactly remade itself since Nora walked out. But in A Doll’s House Part 2 she’s confronted by the human consequences of that abrupt exit of 15 years before, and she won’t have an easy time of it with the people she left behind.
Heath’s play gives Torvald (Ian Leung) the chance to say everything he didn’t get a chance to say when Nora up and walked, slamming the door behind her. Leung is, like his cast-mates, a terrific actor. And in his empathetic performance Torvald is surprisingly likeable, and his point of view has real and unexpected weight.
Nora’s grown-up daughter Emmy (Chariz Faulmino), who’s meeting her mother in effect for the first time, is a surprise, too. As Faulmino’s bright, sharp performance makes crystal clear, she’s her mother’s daughter, smart, alert, with a smile that never dims and a fine-tuned bullshit detector. But her goals are completely the opposite of Nora’s. And Nora, who tries wheedling as a manipulation technique, is more than a little taken aback when Emmy calls her on it. “I actually think in a lot of ways things turned out better because you weren’t around.”
Anne Marie’s argument about class hierarchy and the limited options she had when she abandoned her own offspring to raise the Helmer kids, is a zinger too, not easy to counter.
In the push-pull of debate in Guedo’s fine-tuned production, the opponents are worthy, and the consequences of choosing your own individual needs not dismissible. “It’s really hard to hear your own voice,” says Nora near the end of the play. Especially, as she acknowledges, if there are other people in your world. “The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would.” A Doll’s House Part 2 is about that.
A Doll’s House Part 2
Theatre: Wild Side Productions
Written by: Lucas Hnath
Directed and designed by: Jim Guedo
Starring: Kristi Hansen, Ian Leung, Chariz Faulmino, Maralyn Ryan
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: Thursday through Sept. 18