She’s back! After the door slam heard around the world, Nora, from Ibsen’s classic, “A Doll’s House,” has returned to husband Torvald’s home — and not for the reason you’d expect. Lucas Hnath’s sequel, “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” is the most produced play in America, this season.
“Compressed into 90 minutes is this richly beautifully historical piece, accompanied with this kind of cultural currency that feels like it’s from today’s headlines. In a four-character play, you have three generations of women and a man,” explains Margo Whitcomb, who is directing the Vermont Stage production.
“It’s suspenseful — it kind of unfolds like a thriller,” she said between rehearsals recently.
Vermont Stage Company, Burlington’s full-season professional theater, presents “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at its new home, Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center Black Box.
In the final scene of Ibsen’s 1879 groundbreaking work, “A Doll’s House,” Nora Helmer makes the shocking decision to leave her husband and children and begin a life on her own. This climactic event — when Nora slams the door on everything in her life — propelled world drama into the modern age.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” premiered in 2016 at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California, opening on Broadway in March 2017. It begins with a knock on the door — the same door that was slammed shut 15 years earlier when Nora exited at the end of Ibsen’s play. Nora has returned, and it is she who is knocking. After leaving her husband, children and the nursemaid, Nora became a successful feminist novelist.
“I think one of the great strengths of the play is the balance of everyone, three generations of women who have very different views on these matters, and our man, who’s a husband and a father and a man,” Whitcomb said. “Everyone has a very legitimate point or points to bring up.”
To understand this new play better, Whitcomb looked to the original, which Ibsen based on the actual experience of a female writer friend.
“There’s much debate about whether or not it was a feminist piece, or whether he was a crusader for women’s rights,” Whitcomb said. “He certainly did see the plight of women, but Ibsen was always, first and foremost, a humanist who really tried to examine the complexity of what it is to be human, and that we are all fallible, and we are all multidimensional, and that we are all flawed.
“I think that Lucas Hnath tries on that same impulse,” she said.
One of the challenges of “Part 2” is that Nora can become monochromatic and overly strident.
“Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve read, the trap in this role is that she is only an ideologue, she is only a crusader,” Whitcomb said, “and that she comes in in order to deliver the resolutions of the life she’s discovered, to sermonize on them, and that she’s unchanged by the encounters that she has with the people who have been most intimate with her in her life.”
First and foremost among them is the nanny, Anne Marie, who raised her as a mother, with whom she has no disagreement. And there is the daughter, Emmy, whom she hardly knows.
“I think what you’ll find, at least in the Nora that we’ve rendered, is that she has to confront her ideology in the face of real people with whom she has a complicated and long history,” Whitcomb said. “And it changes and challenges her political position in many ways.”
In the Vermont Stage production, Nora is played by Jena Necrason, co-artistic director and founder of the Vermont Shakespeare Festival. Wayne Tetrick is Torvald; Clarise Fearn, Emmy; and Emme Erdossy is Anne Marie.
“I really feel confident, especially after having encountered other productions and having studied the script so deeply,” Whitcomb said. “I think what we have already achieved, and we’re still a week out, is a human dimension that’s very relatable and very multilayered — funny, touching, tearful, joyous, silly.
“And I’m pretty excited about that.”