Theater

“A Doll’s House Part 2” is powerful, intelligent, striking

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“A Doll’s House Part 2” is powerful, intelligent, striking

Nora’s door slam in A Doll’s House is one of theater’s most unforgettable moments – in 1879, a woman didn’t walk out on her husband and children, abandon her wifely duties and strike out on her own, but Ibsen’s protagonist shook things up and shocked polite society to the core. Playwright Lucas Hnath had the audacity to attempt to follow in Ibsen’s footsteps in 2016 and create A Doll’s House Part 2– both a sequel and, in ways, a modern update – and how lucky we are that he did.

Thoroughly dissatisfied with her marriage, Nora (Laila Robins) leaves her husband Torvald (Christopher Innvar) and their three children; fifteen years later, as the play opens, she returns. Met by her childhood nanny Anne Marie (Mary Stout), who raised the children and cared for Torvald and the house since Nora left, Nora explains where she’s been and what she’s been doing – and why she’s come back: she needs something only Torvald can give her. When he refuses, still furious about Nora’s abandonment, Anne Marie brings in Emmy (Ashley Bufkin), Nora and Torvald’s daughter; Nora hopes Emmy will talk some sense into Torvald, but Emmy has other plans for her mother.

Brian Prather’s set – a very stark foyer with nothing but two chairs – might seem underwhelming, but it’s sly perfection once you realize the focal point here is the door: it’s the door that started (or ended?) it all. The tall, echoing room dwarfs the actors, giving them plenty of space to work (and gives perhaps another clue as to why Nora left – rooms this large make a person feel extremely small.) Jan Caprio’s costumes are sumptuous – Nora enters and we immediately see what kind of person the last 15 years have made of her; Emmy’s clothing choices – and how she wears them – make clear what type of person she’s chosen to become.

This cast is superb. Director Joe Calarco had a killer script to work with, and such a fine group of actors; he’s created art with these elements. Robins, from the moment she steps into the room, commands the eye; this Nora is no one’s “little squirrel.” With her back ramrod-straight, sitting legs akimbo, a rakish grin on her face, arranging chairs to her advantage and never letting Torvald get the best of her – this may be set in the late 1800s, but this is a thoroughly modern Nora, and she is not a woman to mess with. Stout adds some comedy with her extremely mobile facial expressions, but does strong work in her serious moments; Innvar’s Torvald is so layered we’re given a whole new look at an iconic character. Bufkin’s Emmy is a delight; clearly the product of both nature and nurture and very much her own woman, she’s both surprising and electric.

Theaters have been taking such chances this summer with their play selection, and if the full house (and standing ovation) for the press opening of this production are any indication, they’re paying off – what a powerful, intelligent, striking piece of theater.

“A Doll’s House Part 2”; Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA; through July 28; $65-$15; Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes; 413-236-8888;  https://barringtonstageco.org/

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