You do not have to be familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, “A Doll’s House” to enjoy Lucas Hnath’s surprisingly funny sequel, “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” In its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theater, ‘’A Doll’s House, Part 2” begins where Ibsen’s play ended-15 years later.
Nora, who we would probably brand nowadays as a feminist is the woman who left her husband and children with a slam of the door. But now she’s back and she faces a major dilemma; she can be arrested for fraud for living and acting as a single woman-it seems her husband never signed the divorce papers.
Delightedly, everybody gets a scene stealing moment in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” as Hnath presents all sides of the story- something he excels at. Sandra Marquez is at times quite bold and comedic; she gives an interesting perspective to Nora.
She’s a firebrand of sensitivity. Barbara Robertson, is the confused, loving but bewildered nanny who stayed with the family. A gifted actress, it’s Robertson at her best. Celeste M. Cooper in a sincere portrayal of Emmy the daughter, shows the wounds Nora inflicted and how unknowingly she has become her mother’s daughter. Yasen Peyankov’s Torvald is devasted by his wife’s leaving and clueless as to what happened. Peyankov is a brilliant dramatic actor with exquisite facials and timing and is capable of almost turning you against Nora. Almost.
Yet for all the commendable acting and Robin Witt’s artful direction, I have some persistent irritations. I’m not quite certain why there’s a modern box of Kleenex and water bottles sitting on stage for the actors to use. And I’m still working through the modern vernacular against Izumi Inaba’s beautiful period costume attire.
But I did like Courtney O’Neill’s sparse set: the oversized yellow door, the unadorned chairs, and character name projections with the accompanying startling prison cell door clangs.
But I was most distracted by the 34 audience members seated arena style in the back and along the sides of the set - I get it and think it’s creative - but at times my focus as a regular seated audience member was diverted from the actors, and as this is a heavily driven dialogue play, that can be annoying.
“A Doll’s House Part 2” was nominated for a total of eight Tonys in 2017 and won Steppenwolf ensemble member Laurie Metcalf a Best Actress award. It’s also scheduled to be staged at 27 theaters nationwide during the 2018-2019 seasons. It truly is an engrossing and complex play that proves once again we all want the same things: love, understanding, and freedom. And now, thanks to Steppenwolf and Hnath, we know what happened to Nora.
• Regina Belt-Daniels continues to do what she loves to do: teach, act, direct and write reviews. She is a retired District 47 educator, a retired Raue Center for the Arts Board member, a 2018 Woman of Distinction, and currently serves on the boards of RCLPC Theater and It’s Showtime, Huntley.
If you Go
A Doll’s House, Part 2
Through March 17
90 Minutes with no Intermission
Downstairs Theatre Steppenwolf
1650 N Halsted St. Chicago