Theatre Review: ‘A Doll’s House, Part Two’ at Kavinoky Theatre

David Oliver as Torvald and Kristen Tripp Kelley as Nora in: “A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2” at Kavinoky Theatre.

When we last saw Nora, she was walking out the door and slamming it behind her.

After 15 years, Nora’s on the other side of the same door, this time knocking to be let in.

And so begins “A Doll’s House Part Two,” now on stage at the Kavinoky Theatre until November 25.

Ibsen’s original “A Doll’s House” is the story of Torvald and Nora, their marriage, a long-term deception, and a grand realization for Nora, with a revolutionary notion for women in 1879.

This quartet did an admirable job . . .

That stormy departure put Nora on a new path in playwright Lucas Hnath’s  continuation. Sometime between the front door slamming behind her and her confident knock-knock-knock 1 5 years hence, she changed, another great stride for a woman in her era. She is no longer man’s possession. She will not be trivialized. She is earning her own money, successful albeit anonymously in her  career, and is blissfully alone and content. Cue pop singer Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me.”

If only her family believed her.

It would be more convenient if Nora was dead, or at least was believed to be dead.  After so many years away from her family, most people in town speculated she was dead anyway, but without a death certificate on file, there was no way to prove it.

Well, therein lies the problem.

If Torvald finally agrees to a divorce, that’s an acknowledgement that Nora was alive for all those years, ignoring her children and her womanly duties. If she was really just dead, well, she’s somehow not accountable for her self-made, avant garde life.  Daughter Emmy – who has no recollection of her mom – is advocating for the death option. Her betrothed works at the same bank as her father, and it would be face-saving for her. Nora is not buying this, nor is she convinced that her daughter should be wed so young and to a banker, no less.

What’s a girl to do?

From the moment Nora – handsomely played by Kristen Tripp Kelley – strides through the door, she’s the light in the room. The fiery vermillion dress and snazzy red and black high button shoes scream  dominance. Her gait isn’t mincing, as one might expect if one is corseted in form-fitting attire: it’s masculine, almost to the extreme, as if she’s let go of her femininity entirely, instead of evolving away from the porcelain princess in the manor house. Watch how she sits, squarely on the seat, not perched on the edge,  knees not locked for propriety. She’s man-spreading in her former turf.

Anne Gayley is Anne Marie, the live in help,  who added child rearing to her job description when the former lady of the house walked out. There’s no role Gayle can’t play: her Anne Marie is in service, yes, and her role in the house is important, as the influencer over the next generation.

David Oliver is Torvald, the husband who is shocked at Nora’s return and is still as befuddled about her reasons for leaving as she was 15 years ago. Oliver is convincingly benign. Leah Berst is a sparkplug as the young adult daughter Emmy, the only child (of the three), to ‘re-meet’ Nora, of whom she has no recollection. Berst does as a fine job as the calculating, bride-to-be who isn’t listening to her mother’s explanation of why she shouldn’t feel the need to marry so young or at all.

This quartet did an admirable job with Hnath’s  less convincing story. While a 21st century audience will embrace the strong feminist foundation of Nora’s new story, his script is almost too contemporary, too vernacular an extension of Ibsen’s work. With the exception of Anne Marie, it feels like Hnath wrote every character to be vaguely unlikeable, even Nora, who  I desperately wanted to like. After all, she’s earning a fine living as a writer (much to Anne Marie’s surprise), and she wears red with the proper swagger. As far as story and characters, I much preferred Hnath’s 2015 “The Christians,” masterly produced last season by Road Less Traveled Productions.

That being said, the Kavinoky production is fine. David King’s set is subtle, mostly grey scale with reverse hombre walls (it darkens on the way up), to illustrate how Nora took the color out of the home when she left. The door – the portal to a new life – is at center stage, always in clear view. You can’t ignore its significance when it’s always in your view. Robert Waterhouse’s direction is clean and precise.  Next to Nora’s glam dress, if I had to pick a highlight, it would be the rare on-stage opportunity to hear Gayley – Buffalo’s elegant grande dame of theatre – dropping F bombs like it’s her job.

A side note: while technology surrounds us, live theatre is your chance to leave it off or behind altogether.  I heard three different mobile phones ringing – admittedly softly – during the show. Indeed the patron in front of me and the patron on the opposite side of my theatre companion that night both were scrolling through their news feeds after the house lights were down.  Seriously. Use this downtime to read your program or soak in the ambiance or even softly converse with your companion. As an audience member, your responsibility is to be in the moment. Read about theatre etiquette here.

Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult Langauge

“A Doll’s House, Part Two” runs until November 25, 2018 and is presented at Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.