A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 (Arden): After the slam

A Doll's House Part 2 Arden theatre review

Grace Gonglewski as Nora, Joilet F. Harris as Anne Marie in Arden Theatre Company’s A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2. Photo by Mark Garvin

Nora Helmer’s departure at the end of A Doll’s House is as emphatic as they come, but it invites conjecture: How is she going to manage alone in a man’s world? What will her future look like? A new play onstage this month at the Arden Theatre proposes some answers.

In A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 Lucas Hnath takes up Nora’s story fifteen years after the events of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play. Nora (Grace Gonglewski) has returned to get a divorce from her estranged husband Torvald (Steven Rishard). She’s done well for herself, as evidenced by her fine clothes (costumes by Olivera Gajic) and her boasts to maid Anne Marie (Joliet Harris, reprising her role from the Arden’s staging of the original).

Hnath revisits the themes of Ibsen’s play, showing Nora still restricted by a man’s world. He also presents nuance to the story, focusing on the effect Nora’s departure had on different characters. In successive scenes we get the perspective of Torvald, Anne Marie, and Nora’s daughter Emmy (Grace Tarves).

A Dolls House Part 2 Arden theatre review

Steven Rishard as Torvald and Grace Gonglewski as Nora. Photo by Mark Garvin.

It’s no insult to point out that Hnath’s is the lesser play; the characters are shallower and sillier and the stakes lower than in Ibsen’s classic. But Hnath’s aggressively contemporary language grates nicely against the period clothing. He may not be treading new ground, but his amusing new work shows that Ibsen’s themes remain relevant and complex.  

Roseanne costar Laurie Metcalf won a Tony for her Nora on Broadway, but her sitcom-style acting had me longing for a more intimate production, which the Arden’s Arcadia stage provides. Surrounded by seating on three sides, Jorge Cousineau’s bare living room set brings the audience tightly into the action. Gonglewski’s portrayal of Nora as a strong, confident modern women fills the Arden’s 175-seat upstairs studio. She and Rishard spar amusingly, though Hnath’s script would allow for even more naturalistic intimacy in such a close setting.

As was the case in the Arden’s staging of Ibsen’s play, Joliet Harris’s humorous and sympathetic supporting role provides many highlights of the production. Tarves’s take on Emmy is less successful. Hnath provides several keys to her personality (“people say I’m an old soul” “you’re like me [Nora]”), which Tarves and director Tracy Bridgen ignore, instead playing the daughter as a false-naive child-woman.

[Arden Theatre] October 25-December 9, 2018; ardentheatre.org

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Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.