‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’:: What happens when Nora returns?

Courtesy Weston Playhouse

Kathleen McNenny is Nora in the Weston Playhouse production of “A Doll’s House

Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN

It was the door slam heard around the world, when Nora Helmer walked out on her husband in Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 dramatic masterpiece, “A Doll’s House.” After 15 years, Nora returns in “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” Lucas Hnath’s new comic take on an unexpected and uncomfortable reunion.

“I think it does a lot of things at once,” Mary B. Robinson says of the play, which she is directing for Weston Playhouse.

“It’s very funny, it’s incredibly perceptive and eloquent in terms of its ideas, and it’s also — and I think this is something we’re really finding and discovering to our delight and joy — a really terrific relationship play,” she said by phone. “It has four really dimensional characters, and each of these two-character scenes is just a gem.”

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company will present “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a comedy by Lucas Hnath, through Aug. 26 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, the company’s new, intimate 140-seat configurable theater.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” premiered on Broadway in 2017. All four actors were nominated for Tony Awards, along with director Sam Gold and the playwright, and Laurie Metcalf took home the award for her portrayal of Nora. Ben Brantley, in The New York Times, called it “smart, funny and utterly engrossing.”

In the Ibsen play, Nora and Torvald are living a middle-class life in late 19th-century Denmark, when women had few rights. Torvald is annoyed by Nora’s constant requests for money, not knowing it is to pay off a loan she has taken out illegally for the treatment that saved his life. When Torvald discovers the truth, his response betrays Nora’s sacrifice and compels her to leave, something unheard of then. Hence, the famed door slam.

Robinson and the Weston cast read the Ibsen play together, bringing in other Weston actors to fill the roles not in “Part 2.”

“It is clear that she has to leave,” said Robinson, who also directed Weston’s “All My Sons.” “She has very gradually found (that out) herself, but not without a lot of struggle, and at a cost of relationships.”

Appropriately, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” begins with a knock at the door.

Coming back after 15 years, Nora finds she must face these intense relationships, with Torvald; the nanny, Anne Marie; and Emmy, the daughter she really doesn’t know — which was not her intention. She just wants Torvald to solve her problem.

Despite “her feeling that she can compartmentalize, that she’s going to come into this household to get what she needs, she’s no longer able to compartmentalize,” Robinson said. “That’s where the surprises lie, we find.”

And in those surprises lies the humor.

“I think the character of Anne Marie is very funny,” Robinson said. “We have Lizbeth Mackey, who is a terrific dramatic actor. But, I was saying to my husband, ‘My gosh, she is so funny.’

“So there’s certainly humor in her role, which is written in, but I think there is humor in all the characters,” Robinson said. “And it’s not like one-liner humor. It’s organic humor. The theater is billing it as a comedy, which it certainly is, but it’s much more than that.”

Kathleen McNenny plays Nora, against her real-life husband Boyd Gaines, a four-time Tony Award-winner, as Torvald. Rounding out the cast is Margo Seibert (Weston’s “Next to Normal” and “Pregnancy Pact”) as Emmy.

The structure of the play is a series of one-on-one conversations.

“Recently, I’ve been watching interviews that Lucas Hnath did on YouTube a year or so ago when it was first produced,” Robinson said. “He sort of wanted to write a series which he almost called boxing matches, sparring matches. Two opponents get in the ring together, and sort of go at each other.”

Robinson suggested that was the reason for the sparse set, which is both called for in the script and justified in the dialogue.

“He says it should feel like a forum,” Robinson said. “He sets it up as an environment that ‘we’re going to have a discussion.’ But what he’s written is so juicy, so human, and so moving that it, in fact, defies expectation. I just love that about it.”

Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm will be configured “three quarters,” with the audience on three sides of the stage.

“It’s extremely intimate,” Robinson said. “We’re just digging deeper and deeper into these relationships.

“I just love this play,” she said. “And with this cast, what could be better?”

Weston Playhouse

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a comedy by Lucas Hnath, Aug. 2-26 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, 705 Main St. in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are $43, $21.50 for students, $38 and $19 for the Aug. 2 preview; call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.