By Larry Laneer
November 11, 2019
When accomplished actors perform a well-written script, theatergoers wonder why all theater can’t be so engaging. This may be your reaction to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath, now at CitySpace. Well, theater isn’t as easy to do as this production makes it look.
Hnath has written the 2017 A Doll’s House, Part 2 as a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House, an important work in theater history. It’s still studied in drama schools today. At the end of the Ibsen, Nora Helmer leaves her husband, Torvald, famously slamming the door on her way out. Part 2 takes place 15 years later, when Nora returns home for the first time.
Scholars and theatergoers have been wondering since 1879 about what happened to Nora after she left Torvald. Ibsen never said. How did she make her way in the world? Did she have to become a prostitute to make a living? Or die of consumption? Hnath gives his take on the question (from seeds planted by Ibsen). I won’t reveal it here, except to say Nora has developed some radical ideas, which have put her in a difficult situation.
You don’t have to know the Ibsen to get a lot out this play. But if do know it, you will understand why the characters say some of the things they do. Hnath provides all the background you need for Part 2.
Directed with a light but sure hand by Ruth Charnay, the Oklahoma City Rep (they don’t want to be called “City Rep” anymore; fine) production brings together all theatrical elements into a satisfying whole. Hnath has written intelligent dialog, which is more 21st-century than 19th. This well-done production seems to want to be a comedy, but it’s more quick-witted than funny.
This production displays some of the most admirable acting we’ve seen in a while. The commanding Stacey Logan carries the show as Nora. She’s onstage for the play’s entire 90 minutes without intermission. Logan is an Oklahoma City Rep regular, and here the company has cast her in a role that fits like a kid glove. Nora is a strong character, and Logan shows every bit of that strength.
But the acting doesn’t drop off after Logan. Pam Dougherty (she played Violet Weston in Oklahoma City Rep’s August: Osage County in 2010) keeps step with Logan as Anne Marie, the Helmers’ maid (all characters in this play come from the Ibsen). Irascible, conniving, and practical, Dougherty’s Anne Marie is a pleasure to watch. As Torvald, Steve Emerson gives a fine performance. His Torvald finally gets to tell off Nora after she walked out on him. Avery Carlson plays the couple’s daughter, Emmy, who would have been a toddler when Nora left. Carlson’s Emmy shows she has inherited her mother’s spunk, although not in a way sympathetic to Nora.
Ben Hall’s set design is a study in elegant simplicity. In consists of a three-dimensional back wall in what looks like some pleasing shade of light yellow highlighted with white wainscoting and molding. A handsome door with rounded corners opens from the middle of the wall, and the stage is dark wood. Four chairs and a side table look completely appropriate for the parlor of a successful Norwegian bank manager such as Torvald.
The understated, authentic period costumes by Lloyd Cracknell and Jeremy Bernardoni look sharp on the actors. Theatergoers appreciate such attention to detail at the close range of CitySpace. It’s like you’re right there in the Helmer household with the characters.
A Dolls’ House, Part 2 is by no means a great work of drama. It has intelligent dialog, however, and tells a story with a strong point of view. In fact, if Ibsen had written a sequel to A Doll’s House, it might have been very much like Hnath’s Part 2.
|A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
7:30 p.m. Fridays, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays, through November 24
CitySpace, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.