reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Henrik Ibsen first produced his 1879 play A Doll’s House, it created a great stir. Presenting the frustrations of Nora, a woman stuck in the societal locks of a traditional 19th century marriage, and having her final act be leaving her husband and children behind to pursue a more substantial life, left many in his audiences agasp. Indeed, before the play could be presented in Germany, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending in which Nora sees her children and thus cannot leave. The expression of such female effrontery, in an age some years before the earliest feminist campaigns, was earth-shaking. The questions frequently asked by Ibsen’s followers were: What happened to Nora? Did she ever come back?

A scene from IRT’s “A Doll House – Part 2”, highlighting Ann Sheffield’s wonderful set.

Enter Lucas Hnath’s 2017 “sequel” to the play – A Doll’s House – Part 2 – which opened this weekend on IRT’s OneAmerica Mainstage and is directed by James Still. Here is Nora – 15 years later – knocking on the very door she slammed behind her in Ibsen’s classic, seeking to clean up a somewhat flawed and troubled life. Playwright Hnath imagines his heroine as being a great success in what is still a man’s world. Shying from specifics, let me merely say that she has managed to parlay her beliefs of marriage oppression into quite a far-reaching campaign affecting women the world over. From this centerpoint, the play discusses those beliefs, their ramifications, their virtues, their short-comings, and the effect all of this has had on the people Nora left behind. It is, to say the least, an intriguing treatment of the characters’ outlooks. Hnath has employed an interesting modern feel for the language his characters use and with that, director Still has led the attitudes in the portrayals to match it.

Nathan Hosner as Torvald, and Tracy Michelle Arnold as Nora, in a scene from IRT’s production of “A Doll’s House – Part 2”.

The entire cast is sensational. Tracy Michelle Arnold makes her IRT debut in the lead role. Not only is she remarkable in her portrayal, she sustains the play’s entire 1 hour 40 minutes onstage. Dressed in a beautiful creation by designer Alex Jaeger, Ms. Arnold is aptly powerful or weakened, pleading or defiant, convincing or lacking in fortitude – as the role demands. Nora’s husband Torvald is offered by Nathan Hosner, last seen on the IRT stage as one of the prisoners in last September’s Holmes and Watson. Hosner is effectively affected as the left behind husband, showing his own weakened countenance, while displaying the likely reasons Nora left him in the first place.

Tracy Michelle Arnold as Nora, with Kim Staunton as Anne Marie, in a scene from IRT’s production of “A Doll’s House – Part 2”.

Kim Staunton is marvelously inventive as the family nanny, Anne Marie. Left to raise Nora’s abandoned children, she has her own issues with the wayward erstwhile lady of the house. Ms. Staunton’s strengths are her originality and creativity for a role which, in some hands, might have a much diminished effectiveness. She makes her Anne Marie interesting and thoughtful and empathetic. Nora’s daughter Emmy, grown to marriage age, confronts her mother – not for not being there, but for what the principles that drive her have done to the world. As played by Becca Brown, she is strong, wiser than her years and not in the least coquettish.

Tracy Michelle Arnold as Nora, and Becca Brown as her daughter Emmy, in a scene from IRT’s production of “A Doll’s House – Part 2”.

Mr. Jaeger’s costume designs fill the stage with shapes and colors, Ann Sheffield’s beautiful set design gives mere indications of walls, stairways and windows, while the lighting and sound designs by Michelle Habeck and Tom Horan, respectively, enhance the storytelling.

Bottomline: IRT presents a most entertaining show, provoking both thought and conversation. The direction is very effective, especially as it addresses the audience and their feelings in an almost confrontational way. As I stated, the performances are all top-notch. If you like mindful theatre, this one is for you.

A Doll’s House – Part 2 will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through April 7th. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing