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Jane enkin's Review of Royal MTC's A Dollhouse Part 2

reviewed by Jane Enkin janeenkinmusic.com, Feb 24

A Doll's House, Part 2,Royal MTC

February 21 – March 16, 2019

 

reviewed by Jane Enkin

janeenkinmusic.com

 

 

Nora comes back, but it's not for sentimental reasons. In Ibsen's A Doll's House, Nora famously walks away from her husband, children and home. Lucas Hnath's comedy/drama picks up the story 15 years later, when Nora is in need of the official divorce her husband Torvald neglected to file when she left him. Nora, Torvald, their now-grown daughter Emmy and the nanny who raised her, Anne-Marie, are the stripped-down cast of characters.

 

Director Krista Jackson and designer Teresa Przybylski show us a stripped-down home as well, the large expanse of the MTC mainstage almost bare, the walls tall and empty. Nora briefly searches for her remembered possessions, like her piano and her family pictures, all thrown away – and in this vision of the home, nothing has replaced them. The striking lighting design by Michael Walton dramatically draws attention to each of Nora's conversations as a distinct emotional interaction.

 

Kate Hennig gives a subtle and intriguing performance as the nanny Anne-Marie, forthright and yet restrained except when her passions flare. The tenderness between Anne-Marie and Nora, revealed only gradually in Ibsen's A Doll's House, is there from the beginning of this play, beautifully expressed in the way the two actors relate to one another. But Anne-Marie lets Nora know that she is really angry (in much more colourful language) that Nora left, that both Nora and Torvald assumed that she would raise the children, and that Nora has returned with her own agenda.

 

Nora's awkwardness, returning without a sense of how she will be received by each of the others, translates into a gawky, comedic performance by Deborah Hay. Nora's discovery of her own voice is shown to be radical and freeing, for herself and for other women she inspires, but also appallingly self-centred. Hay shows Nora's mixed feelings as she explains her choices and is drawn into an experience of empathy.

 

Torvald is really trying to understand and do the right thing, but as in A Doll's House he and Nora are in a relationship that is impossible to resolve. Paul Essiembre revels in the creation of a multi-layered, emotionally volatile character who strives to fit the definition of manliness, even in the face of the new Nora, who has moved on in her expectations.

 

Bahareh Yaraghi gives their daughter Emmy the grit, delicacy and freshness of a very young woman who is totally sure of herself and her view of the world. Emmy's moving monologue gives Hnath the opportunity to argue against Nora's radical views. She points out the emotional pitfalls of a sequence of fleeting relationships and celebrates all that can be discovered through facing the challenges of commitment.

 

The frequent swearing in the script lets the characters express themselves freely, but it also acts as a distancing device, since the audience laughs at the incongruity of contemporary strong language and casual gestures and body-language from 19th century people. (Actor Hay pointed out after the opening night performance that the mere fact they are not corsetted encourages the women on stage to move and hold themselves in a contemporary way.) Until the brilliant and tender climax of the play, delivered with spectacular fireworks by Hay and Essiembre, an air of detachment keeps the audience focused as much on the intellectual aspects of the script as the emotional interactions.

 

This is a play of ideas – the playwright (there is a fascinating interview in the program, well worth reading before the play begins) notes that he was inspired by George Bernard Shaw. A major difference is that Shaw usually lets us know where he stands on an issue, while Hnath is an explorer. He lets his characters voice the many facets of complex issues – the relationships of these four people demonstrate in microcosm many aspects of class, gender and dependence. He invites us to question how we see ourselves, how we see the roles of men and women, what it could mean to be truly independent and whether that is a desirable state to be in.

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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