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A Doll's House, Part 2

Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
The famous slammed door is opened by the housekeeper, Anne-Marie (Leslie O'Carroll), and low and behold, there she is, Nora (Barbra Wengerd), in all her glory, like Prometheus unbound by Hercules, wearing an eye-popping dress (that hilariously reveals itself as culottes). The living room of the prequel, A Doll's House, has been stripped bare, echoing Torvald's (Leif Norby) emotional life since Nora walked out on him and their children, fifteen years ago.

Leslie O'Carroll as Anne-Marie and Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Leslie O'Carroll as Anne-Marie
and Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
In Nora and Anne-Marie's scene-setting conversation, we hear of Nora's successful writing career and Anne-Marie's objections to Nora's disparagement of marriage in her best-selling books. Then Nora drops the bombshell that Torvald never filed for divorce, and that a judge, whose wife left him as a result of her books, is threatening to prosecute her for breaking various Danish laws that forbid women from doing a number of things that she has done. The upshot is that Nora has come to get Torvald to file for divorce.

Unexpectedly, Torvald (Leif Norby) returns home for some papers. After a few beats, the sparring begins. In many ways, Torvald seems a defeated man, unable to be proactive on his own account and willing to let events take their course, which will ruin him, while Nora, despite being in a jam herself, presents the logical options available to extracate each of them from their legal bind.

Barbra Wengerd as Nora and Leif Norby as Torvald
Barbra Wengerd as Nora
and Leif Norby as Torvald
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
Their conversation, imagined by playwright Lucas Hnath, is full of unexpected dynamics—for example, Torvald refusing to take action and be ruined, and Nora, despite getting zinged a few times by Torvald, unwavering in her determination to solve their dilemma.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Wengerd's embodiment of the underlying humor and irony of Nora's and Torvald's reversal of fortune is never far from the surface of these rough seas, sometimes in a fleeting gesture not quite obscured by the agitated waters, or in a glance here or there evident in the breaking wave, or with a nuanced eyebrow or enigmatic smile evident in the foam. Perhaps, as the silent maid in A Doll's House, Wengerd/Helen saw similar tell-tale expressions from Dr. Rank, years ago, and now—facing a Torvald who holds semblances to Rank (Norby's role in A Doll's House)—this legacy subtext brings them to the surface. Or, perhaps, it is just as Nora would be now, as an insightful and ascerbic writer, and compelling conversationalist.

Leif Norby as Torvald and Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Leif Norby as Torvald
and Barbra Wengerd as Nora
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
Norby's intricately woven portrait of victimization is both genuine and calculated, much as Torvald always was when he was empowered—loving in his own limited way, while seeking dominance—but the pain is real, and it alters the dynamic with Nora, as Torvald exits this round, hoping to have had the last word by refusing to divorce her, which would literally force Nora to destroy Torvald in order for the court to grant her, a woman, a divorce.

Barbra Wengerd as Nora and Leslie O'Carroll as Anne-Marie
Barbra Wengerd as Nora and
Leslie O'Carroll as Anne-Marie
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
In what resembles a tag-team debate, Anne-Marie (Leslie O'Carroll) returns and, after being asked to help convince Torvald to file for divorce, gives Nora a piece of her mind before suggesting that Nora leave, after beating her with the stick of child abandonment, just as Torvold did in the previous round. O'Carroll, who played Anne-Marie in A Doll's House, returns as a housekeeper more entrenched in her conservativism, underscoring Ibsen's point that traditional values, and the litany of rationalizations that engender civic and religious dogma, cross gender lines.

When Nora says that she will stay in the house, since it is her right (given that she is still married), Anne-Marie objects, with the ensuing debate covering a lot of ground, and points made where one does not expect them. Ultimately, though, Anne-Marie gives Nora only one option: meet the daughter, Emmy (Anastasia Davidson), whom she abandoned as an infant.

Anastasia Davidson as Emmy
Anastasia Davidson as Emmy
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
While Emmy holds no resentment towards Nora, she does bring her own agenda—as she is engaged and must defend her family's reputation—to circumvent a larger problem having to do with the assumptions that Torvald's friends, acquaintances, and business associates made about Nora's absence. Hnath's strong choice of Emmy to round out arguments in favor of tradition results in Nora's greatest test. Fully leveraging the power that the playright imbues in Emmy, Davidson is formidable indeed. Some of her temerity is carried over from Kristine Linde, whom Davidson plays in A Doll's House; but, to these skills Davidson conjures a number of additional powers, with a laser-like focus and impeccable, mile-a-minute delivery (kudos to voice and dialect coaching by Kathryn G. Maes, Ph.D.). Under this barrage, Nora once again shows her mettle, embracing another monumental decision, one that resounds with the import of the original door slam.

While Hnath remains true to the issues raised by Ibsen, and provides a wealth of opportunity for a director to amplify the subtext, as we noted in Coleman and Riordan's casting choices, the kicker is Nora's equally compelling exit choice, fifteen years after the iconic original, in this worthy sequel.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of A Doll's House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath, runs through November 24th, in repertory with A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen. For tickets, including a listing of double feature Saturday/Sunday schedule: denvercenter.org/tickets.

Bob Bows



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