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REVIEW: Intriguing A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Jungle)

Steven Epp (as Torvald) and Christina Baldwin (as Nora) in the Jungle Theater production of A Doll’s House, Part 2, now playing in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Lauren B. Photography.

What happens to Nora? This question has lingered with theatregoers ever since Nora first walked out on her family at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. That was in 1879; now, more than a century later, playwright Lucas Hnath has delivered a response.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 takes the question of Nora’s fate, or destiny, head-on.  The result, presented under the direction of Joanie Schultz at the Jungle Theater, is a thought-provoking evening.

Audiences don’t have to wait very long for answers once the lights go down. At the start of the play, Nora returns to her old home in a Norwegian town. Fifteen years have passed; after an initial struggle, we learn, Nora (Christina Baldwin) has done financially well for herself, espousing her feminist dogma in published novels.  As in the original Doll’s House, Nora has some legal issues caused by the patriarchal laws that prohibit married women from signing contracts.

Anne Marie (Angela Timberman) and Nora (Christina Baldwin) have a moment. Photo by Lauren B. Photography.

This is where the audience starts to learn some interesting other things about what happened to the other characters. When Nora left Torvald in the original play, she was under the impression that he was going to divorce her.  She assumed the divorce went through and she has acted as an unmarried women, including signing contracts.  Torvald (played by Steven Epp), embarrassed by Nora’s departure, initially led others to believe that Norah was ill and eventually died. Since he never actually divorced her, the two are both subject to possible legal liability for misrepresenting their marital status.

All this is setup; as in the original play, the legalities merely serve to catalyze the ensuing drama.  Nora is no longer a victim, but she is not a perfect heroine.  She made a better life for herself, but it is clear she does not want to face the damage caused to those who were abandoned.  In this play, the reckoning comes with only one of her children, her daughter Emmy (Megan Burns).  Emmy is following in her mother’s footsteps with her plans to marry an up and coming banker.  She also shares her mother’s self-centeredness and is focused only on how Nora’s return affects her wedding plans.

Christina Baldwin plays Nora, a fictional heroine whose story of seeking her own freedom has thrilled audiences since the late 19th century. The original A Doll’s House has been adapted to the screen and television some thirteen times. Photo by Lauren B. Photography.

The person most damaged by Nora’s liberation, however, was her husband Torvald.  This older Torvald reveals himself as more than the self-centered man who treated Nora like a child in the first play.  He shares how empty his life has been since Nora left.  Despite his anguish and whininess, this play gives Torvald a second chance to make the heroic self-sacrificing gesture that he failed to make 15 years ago.

Christina Baldwin plays a confident, self-assured Nora.  Her Nora has already suffered enough and she won’t force herself to dwell on the pain she has caused.  Steven Epp plays the broken Torvald with greater dimensions than the character had in the first play.  Torvald is still self-centered, certainly, but now also great angst.  Angela Timberman deftly plays Anne Marie, the long-suffering housekeeper who was forced to make sacrifices in her life and is now fearful of losing her meager place in the world.  Megan Burns as daughter Emmy coolly displays a self-absorbed demeanor with no warmth towards her mother.

All of the action occurs in the entryway, by that same door where Nora made her original exit.  Chelsea M. Warren’s set design aptly shows a 19th-century upper-class home that has seen better days.  Chairs are lined up on each side, but are not necessarily matching.  Mathew J. Lefebvre’s costume design also contributes to the ambience of the time period with little touches such as Nora’s success reflected by her stylish dress.

The characters in Hnath’s Part 2 are more multi-dimensional than in Ibsen’s original play.  The Jungle Theater’s production of this play portrays a satisfying next act in the life of Nora.

A Doll’s House Part 2 runs through February 23 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.

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