A Doll’s House is a three-act play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It premiered in 1879. An English translation was staged in America in 1883, and the play received a Broadway staging in 1889. In the play, a young housewife and mother feels suffocated by the demands of marriage to Torvald, a recently promoted banker who is obsessed with image. She see’s herself viewed as a possession and ultimately leaves Torvald and their three small children.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath imagines the Ibsen characters 15 years later. Nora returns to the home she shared with Torvald. It seems Torvald never filed for divorce. A man in the 19th Century could be granted a divorce simply by request, whereas a woman has to prove unsurmountable cause. For reasons that become evident over the course of the play, Nora needs a divorce from Torvald and has returned for the sole purpose of convincing him to give her one.
Hnath’s words are filled with angst. Not since Tennessee Williams has there been a writer more adept at painting with flawed characters. The play made its Broadway debut in 2017 and received eight Tony nominations. Laurie Metcalf won the Best Actress in a Leading Role Tony for her performance as Nora.
Elgin, Illinois is a long way from Broadway, but the powerful staging of A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Elgin Theatre Company shows why it deserves to be in the same conversation. The four person play features four dynamic actors guiding the audience through a full range of emotions, always keeping us on the edge of our seats.
In the central role of Nora, Lori Rohr is exquisite. She radiates the confidence of a woman who has found success since leaving her husband and small children 15 years ago. She shows no regret, a woman assured that the choice she made to leave was what she had to do in order to survive. She feels her children are better off having been raised by their nanny Anne-Marie.
Rohr is a powerful actress, which is what the role of Nora requires. While she is adept at playing Nora’s confidence and, at times, arrogance, Rohr also shows the cracks in her façade. She is desperate and not above manipulating Torvald, Anne-Marie, and even her daughter Emmy to get what she wants.
Dana Nease Udelhoven plays Anne-Marie with a wealth of emotions. She was the nanny to Nora before she became nanny to Nora and Torvald’s children. Therefore, there is a part of her that is overjoyed to see Nora again. But Anne-Marie had to make many sacrifices when Nora left and there is a great deal of resentment for that reason. Udelhoven is truly amazing in the role.
Jamie Ewing is an actor known locally for playing men of strong character. Here he shows off a different set of acting chops. Ewing plays Torvald as a meek man who has avoided dealing with being left by his wife. Even after 15 years he still holds out unrealistic hope that he can be the hero in the story. It is performance filled with incredible subtleties.
As Nora and Torvald’s daughter Emmy, Rachel Stephens is clearly the youngest in the cast. Yet this young actress has no problem holding her own among the powerhouse performers she shares the stage with.
Helming the Elgin Theatre Company production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is Thomas Neumann. His directorial choices are inspired and compelling. In the span of a few short years, Neumann has really proven that he deserves a seat at the table when it comes to discussion of the area’s top directing talents.
Neumann has staged the production as theatre in the round. There is no set outside of a door and four chairs. The blocking masterfully keeps the dialogue-heavy action moving. It is an incredibly intricate staging.
Although the characters are costumed in 19th century fashion, they seem aware they are in front of a modern audience. The characters break the fourth wall to address the audience and there is a bit of 21st century attitude to their demeanor. A table with modern water bottles seems to serve as a bit of beacon that the play exists in between the confines of time.
Marcy Angsurat has done a remarkable job in costuming the characters in period fashion. The stellar production is produced by Richard Grieger.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from October 8 through October 24 at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street, 8th Floor, Elgin, IL. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 PM. Sunday performances are at 2 PM and are sign acted for the deaf and hard of hearing – something I wish more theaters would do.
For tickets call (847) 741-0532 or visit the Elgin Theatre Company website at www.Elgin-Theatre.org.
Masks are required for all audience members regardless of vaccination status. Proof of vaccination or 72 hour negative COVID test must be shown to attend.
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