It’s still time to catch the Roundhouse Theatre’s intriguing production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which closes Sunday, June 30, at the Lansburgh Theatre in D.C.
For those familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House,” the plot had Nora powerfully walking away from a marriage that she has been unhappy in for years. Written in 1879, it was revolutionary for its time, as Nora not only left her husband but three small children. Seen as radical and extreme, the play became a battle cry for the feminist movement.
Playwright Lucas Hnath pens a new tale imagining what Nora’s life is like 15 years later. Directed by Nicole A. Watson, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” focuses on Nora (Holly Twyford) making her return to confront her husband Torvald (Craig Wallace) about giving her a divorce.
What seems like a simple matter turns out to be laden with complications. Since leaving, Nora became a feminist writer who is now wealthy from a series of successful books that rail against the oppressive institution of marriage. However, a man whose wife left him after reading Nora’s book threatens to expose her as a fraud when he learns that she is not divorced.
Nora’s marital status matters because the laws at that time forbade married women from entering into contracts without their husband’s consent. If Nora does not get a divorce, all of the contracts and arrangements that she has signed since leaving are null and void.
However, if she asks for a divorce, it puts her husband Torvald, a judge, in a bad light, as it would show marital cruelty on his part. Additionally, he has allowed people for years to believe that Nora was dead.
Hnath’s intelligent and perceptive script forces one to look at how gender roles are portrayed and the expectations of what it is to be a woman. Twyford assuredly portrays an unrepentant Nora who shows no remorse for leaving a marriage where she felt suffocated by a controlling husband. Yet, her husband Torvald; the nanny Anne Marie (Nancy Robinette); and the couple’s daughter Emmy (Kathryn Tkel), all have their point of view.
The strength of the production is based on the excellent acting by all four actors. We see battle lines drawn and arguments ensure about matrimony, parenthood and taking responsibility for one’s own life. Wallace is dignified and stoic as he shows an underlying, deep hurt that remains after 15 years. Robinette is all anxiety-ridden as the nanny who raised Nora’s children after Nora left, feeling she had no other choice.
The confrontation between Twyford and Tkel is a highlight of the production, with Tkel portraying Emmy as a serious and whip-smart daughter who is full of internal rage.
When Nora asks Emmy to intercede on her behalf to get Torvald to sign the divorce papers, it is a taut and telling moment. Towards the end, when Emmy reveals that she does not agree with Nora’s marriage views, it spoke volumes about changing values, wants and needs.
The aftermath of Nora’s original choice rippled shockwaves through “A Doll’s House Part 2,” forcing the audience to see how society has disparaged women. Hnath’s production challenges audiences to rethink this mindset.
For tickets, visit roundhousetheatre.org.