Thursday, December 6, 2018

San Diego Rep’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” A Case For Nora.


“Be careful what you wish.”

In Ibsen’s 1879 “A Doll’s House” protagonist Nora, rebellious and pissed off wife of Torvald Helmer walked out on her husband's home one fateful night. She slammed the door behind her after leaving her house keys and wedding band behind, stating the she ‘needs to make sense of herself…’ She never looked back.

That is until Playwright Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House Part 2” opened on Broadway in April of 1917, after being commissioned by South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa where Hnath picks up on the lives of the Helmer’s fifteen years after Nora said bye, bye.  
Sofia Jean Gomez and Linda Libby
After that final slam and fifteen years of hard work at being liberated, Norah finds herself knocking or banging on the very door she crashed shut when she left her husband of eight years, along with her nursemaid Anne Marie, to raise their three children.  

Now she hesitantly walks through that very same door into a place once called her doll’s- house. She needs a favor from Torvald that can help resolve some of the legal wrangling she is now being faced with, but will he?

It seems that when she left he never finished completing their divorce papers as he said he would, and she in her fifteen year successful journey of becoming a feminist writer (writing about women who leave their husbands based on her own experiences) designer and gadabout, believed all the contracts she signed on her road to success were legal and binding.

Ergo she acted and went about her business as a single woman but when the wife of a certain judge left her husband after reading Nora’s book, he went digging into her past and found she was never legally divorced. As a married woman she was not allowed to sign legal contracts, etc.  That spelled trouble for Nora especially if she didn’t publically retract everything she said against marriage in her published books.  

“A Doll’s House 2” currently at the San Diego Repertory Theatre on the Lyceum Stage through Dec. 16th brings Nora (Sofia Jean Gomez) and Torvald (convincing René Thornton, Jr.) face to face once again.

‘Part 2’ is a continuation of Ibsen’s work, but the difference in tone reflects a difference in attitude and is like night and day watching the quick and sharp repartee between all characters.
Rene Thornton, Jr and Sofia Jean Gomez
The text is loaded to the gills with wit and charm as the players now fifteen years older, and the play itself over 130 years old, goes back into their past debates of what used to be before Nora left. “(Everything that was yours got thrown out after you left.”)

Some things change, others stay the same. Or, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’. While some might dub Hnath’s play as a feminine piece, but to this reviewer, prejudiced as she might be, it is nothing more than the advancement of a women’s place in society and these days,wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Back then, well...

Nora was living out the feminist’s dream after she found herself living alone and content. She was pretty much her own woman, something the male establishment, then and now, finds difficult to digest. It was only in her success that her profession and single-mindedness and being single became a target of revenge and bribery by powerful men of the time. (Well? Ahem!)
Danny Brown and Sofia Jean Gomez
In this latest rendering of who, what and now lives in this new doll’s house, staged with assurance by the Rep’s artistic director Sam Woodhouse, we are given the opportunity to see and decide for ourselves how and if things progressed in the dozen or more years Nora was on her own.

 Greeting Nora at the door Anne Marie (Linda Libby) her once upon a time housekeeper/nanny who encouraged her former employer to come home after receiving a note from her, is a bit unnerved to see her. Now that Nora is inside the house, she has mixed feelings. But we carry on.  

Nora gets the last word with Anne Marie until she comes face to face with both Torvald, who already knew his runaway wife was back in town and is still the mean bastard he was when she left
Sofia Jean Gomez and Rene Thornton, Jr.
She asks and then demands he grant her a divorce. After he backs off by refusing her, (“Are you really after all this time going to stand in the way of me getting a divorce?” “I’m not giving you a divorce because you don’t deserve for this to be easy.”) the battle of the wills begins.

Their now grown daughter Emmy (a delightful Danny Brown) who a chip off the old block still believes in the old fashioned idea of marriage; the very same ideas that led women down the same primrose path Nora took, is about to get into the act. (“For the longest time I thought you were dead.”).  

Nora comes into the household looking like a million dollars (thanks to Jennifer Brawn Gittings classy outfit) with the snow at her back. Feeling a bit awkward, she brazenly makes herself at home by taking off her feathered hat and beautiful ruby red brocade cape that shows off  skin tight leggings, knee high boots and lose shirt like blouse; very Victorian looking. She settles in and and finds a comfortable spot for herself.    

She spars with her housekeeper, husband and daughter making her case known to them all.  When she leaves, walking through the same door she entered with the snow now in her face you know it’s been a long exhausting but satisfying day’s work.
Linda Libby and Sofia Jean Gomez
Both Gomez and Thornton play well off each other. It’s natural and easy to be convinced of their love hate relationship getting into the underbelly of what made them stay together, that is until Nora got fed up with the whole charade. Their banter fuels their feelings but will finally find closure they hope.   

Ms. Gomez, with credits to die for is delightfully charming and steely as Nora and never seems at a loss for words.  She stands by her convictions on what the world of women will look like: “In the future, 20 or 30years from now, marriage will be a thing of the past, and those in the future will look back on us, and they will be in shock, in total-just awe-at how stupid we are, how backward is our thinking…”True to her beliefs she is uncompromising.

Mr. Thornton is convincing but petty and vindictive as he makes his case that everything that happened fifteen years ago is about him rather than them as a couple. Over the course of the day, Nora convinces him that what happened to him also happened to them. Looking for a gentler and kinder Torvald? Stay tuned. 

Linda Libby a long time San Diego favorite is an absolute blast as The Helmer servant. If facial expressions could tell a story as hers is written in every move she makes and she more than anyone adds the humor needed to lighten up the winds of change that will be coming.  

Without a word, we know what she is thinking, as she responds to the series of questions one might ask of one many presumed dead. When she asks what Nora has been up to she gets an earful of how well and successful she has been. Her adventures into the world of feminism, has Anne Marie baffled.

Sean Fanning designed the living space Nora used to live in with grey- planked floors three windows looking out at the steady falling of snow, a few chairs and a bench placed strategically on a steeply raked stage bringing the action closer to the audience. Alan Burrett’s lighting reflects the different images of the snow drifting as Nora comes and as she goes, something one never thinks about when facing a snowfall.  

Rene Jean Thornton, Jr., Linda Libby and Sofia Jean Gomez
Witty, funny, blunt and compelling the exchanges come and go fast and furious. Hnath's operatic like drama is simply top of the line; theatrical and stunning in every way. It is a masterpiece in timing, credibility and pacing. It’s so engrossing that you don’t want it to end.

Two thumbs up.

See you at the theatre.

 Dates: Through Dec. 16th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619-544-1000
Production Type: Comedy
Where: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$69.00
Web: sdrep.org
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo: Jim Carmody

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