Review: “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in Novato

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House premiered in 1879 to great controversy. His look at the limitations and restrictions placed on women in a patriarchal society was considered quite scandalous at the time. Many consider it to be the beginning of modern feminist literature, though Ibsen himself denied that. Suffice it to say that a play that ended with a wife and mother walking out on her family (cue door slam) was not the norm.

Not content to leave the sound of a slamming door be the last “word”, playwright Lucas Hnath picks up the story of Nora and Torvald 15 years later with A Doll’s House, Part 2. The Novato Theater Company has a production running through June 12.

It’s now 1894, and the stately silence of the Helmer household is interrupted by a knock at the door. Nanny-turned-housekeeper Anne Marie (Shirley Nilsen Hall) opens the door and admits Nora (Alison Peltz) into the household she abandoned long ago. Nora has spent the last 15 years living an independent life as a successful writer. Her latest book challenges the very concept of marriage, much to the consternation of the powerful men whose wives have walked out on them after reading it. Under a threat of blackmail, Nora is shocked to discover that she is still married as Torvald (Mark Clark) never filed for divorce. She seeks to enlist the aid of Anne Marie and eventually her own daughter Elly (Jannely Calmell) to convince Torvald to file. He has his own ideas.

Shirley Nilsen Hall, Mark Clark, Alison Peltz, Jannely Calmell

You don’t need to be familiar with the Ibsen original to get this show, and folks fearing a stuffy 19th-century Norwegian drama will be presently surprised to find that Hnath has taken a very modern approach to the material. The dialogue is peppered with expletives and the humor is sharp and pointed but the essence of Ibsen remains.

Energetically directed by Gillian Eichenberger, the show zips along and packs a lot in its 85 intermission-less minutes. Each character gets their moment, and each performer delivers their moment with verve. Peltz in particular does a nice job of balancing Nora’s ambitions with her imperfections.

I really liked the simple, understated, but elegant scenic design by Michael Walraven with a single wall and door as the show’s centerpiece accompanied by a chair, some tables, a coat rack, a rug, and a chaise. That the actors frequently were placed in the chair or on the lounge made me long for a raked stage or a raked audience as I spent my time during those scenes bobbing and weaving with the people seated in front of me as they did with the people seated in front of them, all in the attempt to see what was happening on-stage. 

Mark Clark, Alison Peltz

By show’s end, we still don’t know what lies ahead for Nora. Maybe in another 138 years…

’A Doll’s House, Part 2’ runs through June 12 at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Ste. C, Novato. Fri & Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. ASL-interpreted performance Sun, May 29. $12–$27. 415.883.4498. Proof of vaccination and masking are required to attend. novatotheatercompany.org.

Photos by Jere Torkelsen

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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