By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
In Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 theatrical landmark A Doll’s House, the heroine Nora Helmer comes to see that her marriage with Torvald has been an exercise in self-delusion and stultification. After three acts of turgid Norwegian drama she announces she’s leaving him and the kids and, famously, slams the door and disappears from sight.
Or does she?
Playwright Lucas Hnath imagines what would happen if Nora did come home again in his comedy/drama A Doll’s House, Part 2. The play opened on Broadway in 2017, enjoyed a respectable run and is especially noteworthy for a much-heralded performance from Laurie Metcalf in the lead role.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 continues through April 7. Pittsburgh Public Theater, Downtown. 412/316-1600. www.ppt.org
The Pittsburgh Public Theater presents the local premiere in a production directed by Ted Pappas, back in town having recently retired as the artistic director of the Public.
This longish one-act takes place fifteen years after the end of Ibsen’s original. Hnath cleverly begins with Nora knocking on the same door she slammed all those years ago. Since she left she’s become a well-known author enjoying the financial, sexual and emotional freedom of the last decade and a half. As it turns out, however, Torvald never officially divorced her and she’s now in legal trouble threateing the life she’s built for herself … and she’s here to get Torvald to file divorce papers (in this Victorian Norwegian world it’s much easier for a man to divorce than a woman.)
A Doll’s House, Part 2 is really a series of two-person scenes: Nora is first welcomed home by Anne Marie, the nanny who raised her when she was little and then raised Nora’s kids when she left. They talk about what’s happened to them during the intervening years and what each hopes the other will do during this visit.
Next up is the first meeting Nora has had with Torvald since she walked out on him. To say there is some unfinished business is putting it mildly and, initially, he refuses to accede to her divorce request – can she change his mind?
Then comes Nora and Emmy … the now grown up daughter she abandoned so long ago that Emmy has no memory of her and considers Nora an outsider and a stranger.
There’s a few more scenes, all two-handers, and then the play is over.
Hnath is a very intelligent writer with a terrific ability to craft smart, swift and funny dialogue.
Lisa Velten Smith’s Nora is clear-eyed and resolute; we’re in no doubt that this Nora knows what she wants and how to get it. Smith makes us understand the confusion and frustration Nora has to process as she suddenly confronts new obstacles.
The character of Anne Marie is the prime generator of the show’s laughs and watching Helena Ruoti land each of them is one of this production’s chief joys. Marielle Young brings to Emmy an intriguing remove – she’s very present but her intentions and feelings always seem just out of reach.
Daniel Krell has the toughest role of the bunch – for dramaturgical reasons Torvald is the only one of the four still existing in the 19th century (the three women, in Hnath’s hands, have an anachronistic sense of self-actualization.) But Krell makes Torvald’s stolidity both his shield and weapon. Pappas has a great time configuring and reconfiguring these duos and never misses a chance to explode Hnath’s humor.
In the minus column we find that, just like the characters, Hnath is too clever by half and, as sort of suggested above, this is a very talky play. It’s smart, fun talk but there is a lot of it (not unlike the Ibsen original.) Occasionally it seemed a bit more exploration of what was hiding underneath all that sophisticated palaver was needed and if Hnath has some larger purpose to impart it passed me by.
But it’s only 90 minutes long with strong performances by a top-notch cast and, in a world where “lmoa,” “afaik,” and “icymi” are considered acceptable conversion, it’s nothing short of miraculous to hear adults actually talking like adults.