TR Robertson –All that needs to be said about San Diego Rep’s latest play on the Lyceum Stage is Wow, Wow and Wow, Ibsen would be proud! From the moment Nora Helmer arrives at the door of her former home until the moment she goes back out that same door the audience is mesmerized by the on stage performance of the three actresses and one actor. We are led back and forth through a series of thought provoking arguments and discussions about marriage and the position of women in society.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is a Tony nominated play written by Lucas Hnath, and is his idea of what might have happened to the Helmer family, from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century play “A Doll’s House”, if Nora returned to her home after walking out the door of her home 15 years before. Ibsen is one of the founders of modernism and called the father of realism. Considering the themes of Ibsen’s play at the time he was writing, he was thought to be scandalous as he questioned the morals of family life and the moral standards of marriage and a woman’s position in the society of that time.
Photos by Jim Carmody
In Ibsen’s play, Nora Helmer, married to Torvald Helmer, suffers through what she sees as a loveless marriage, being made to follow the accepted rules of society structured to keep women at home, raising the children and catering to the whims of the “man of the house”. Nora finally confronts Torvald in the final act, feeling betrayed by his actions and unable to continue as his wife and mother to her three children. In a dramatic ending, Nora leaves the tearful Torvald crying as she walks out the door of her home, slamming the door, not knowing what the future may hold for her.
Hnath gives everyone, who sees “A Doll’s House, Part 2” a chance to think about what might have happened. Nora returns to her former home, after 15 years of struggling to find her identity, having established herself as a highly successful feminist writer. She has developed a well thought out, in her opinion, stance on marriage. Hnath provides the audience a chance to hear this in detail through a series of asides as Nora, and the three other actor/actresses, will step out and speak directly to the audience, asking their opinion on a particular point they are making. The moral and social dilemma presented goes from Nora who feels marriage is a trap set to hold women down, to the housekeeper/former nanny Ann Marie who feels Nora has gone too far and should return to the household, to Emmy – Nora’s only daughter who is planning to marry, to Torvald – Nora’s husband who has never filed for a divorce and remains true to the moral standards of the day. Nora wants a divorce to save herself from some tremendous legal problems, Torvald cannot file for divorce or he will also face his own legal problems and Emmy has helped cover up death certificate issues which were set to be filed since Nora has been missing for 15 years. Perhaps Hnath will even give us a Part 3. After all, Nora leaves again, but this time the door remains open.
The plays a bit complicated and you should really know about the story set in motion in Ibsen’s play, but even if you don’t know a thing about the original play, this is a play you will walk away talking about. The reason for this is the performance by the lead Sofia Jean Gomez as Nora. Her presence on stage is felt from the minute the door to the home opens and she stands, like a magnificent painting, impeccably dressed. Sofia glides around the stage, presenting Nora with incredible strength and not missing a beat in the fast paced dialogue. Linda Libby plays Anne Marie, the trusting, faithful housekeeper who also served as the nanny to raise the three children Nora left. Linda is as award winning actress, the first woman awarded the Craig Noel Actor of the Year Award in 2013. She is hilarious as she tries to understand what brings Nora back and she tries to make her feel at home again. At the same time we see her finally stand up and speak her mind and confronting Nora about what she feels are unacceptable beliefs for the world she has grown up in.
Classically trained Shakespearean actor Rene Thornton Jr. plays Torvald and as Torvald, we feel his pain and anguish, even if we don’t fully believe he has Nora’s best interest in mind. Thornton shows a great range of emotion on stage from the stunned husband seeing his wife again after 15 years, to a man angry and scorned, to a man with a plan only to find out he still doesn’t understand his wife. Playing Nora’s only daughter Emmy is Danny Brown, working at San Diego Rep for the first time. Danny has worked in a Shakespearean company and performed in film, TV and commercials. Danny presents Emmy as a young, seemingly naïve woman with a plan, and a secret she has kept for years protecting her father, only now needing to protect him even more.
A simple, but highly effective stage with minimal props and wonderful lighting effects provides the set for this emotional play. San Diego Rep Co-founder and Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse has once again brought to the Lyceum Stage a thought provoking and entertaining performance. To accomplish this he is he is assisted by Scenic Designer Sean Fanning, Costume Designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings, Wig Designer Missy Bradstreet, Lighting Designer Alan Burrett, Sound Designer Matt Lescault-Wood, Stage Manager Laura Zingle, Casting Director Kim Heil and Dramaturg Dawn Moore.
As the play draws to a close and Nora leaves her home again, she begins to realize change will be a slow process for society, “The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would” and as she exits, the door remains open this time, perhaps a hint of things to come. Perhaps Hnath has a “A Doll’s House, Part 3” in mind.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” will be on stage at the Lyceum Theatre Horton Plaza until December 16th. Tickets can be purchased at 619-544-1000 or go to www.sdrep.org. Next up for San Diego Repertory Theatre will be “Aubergine” by Julio Cho beginning on January 24th.