At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play “A Doll’s House,” Nora Palmer walks out of her home, leaving behind her husband and their three young children forever — or so they thought. A door that dramatically slammed closed many years ago is opened once again in Lucas Hnath’s sequel play, “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” opened at the Steppenwolf Theatre Feb. 10. The story takes place 15 years after Ibsen’s original three-act play ends. Nora (Sandra Marquez) is forced to return to the home she abandoned for a new, independent life seeking an official divorce that, to her surprise, her husband never filed.
Her return is met with anger, confusion and shock by the members of her former household. Anne Marie (Barbara E. Robertson), the household’s nanny who raised Nora’s children when she left, greets her first. First meeting Nora with a jaw drop and ecstatic hug, Anne Marie’s attitude about her unexpected guest shifts quickly to disappointment as she lectures Nora with rage. Robertson’s portrayal of Anne Marie takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, going from love and excitement to anger and mistrust.
Nora’s husband, Torvald (Yasen Peyankov), returns home to find his estranged wife, which leaves him in utter shock. Emmy (Celeste M. Cooper), who never got to know her mother, approaches Nora with mild enthusiasm. Through sarcastic tones and tongue-in-cheek comments Cooper’s portrayal of Emmy reflects the headstrong, blunt character of Nora. Cooper makes it clear that, although Nora didn’t raise Emmy, she’s without a doubt her mother’s daughter.
Marquez is brilliant as Nora. With the help of Hnath’s script, Nora comes off as a modern proto-feminist as she gives a long soliloquy on the incredible life she lived as a single woman and explained to Anne Marie that marriage as a whole is trivial.
Director Robin Witt tried something new with this play — for the first time at Steppenwolf, there’s audience seating on the stage. Four small sections of seats surround the actors on the sides and back of the stage, resembling a jury at a courthouse. Although audience members who chose those seats aren’t necessarily meant to be part of the story, it adds an interesting and unique element to the overall production. This seating arrangement allows the on-stage audience to be immersed into the drama and action while the people sitting in the auditorium get to watch not only the actors, but also see the reactions of their fellow audience members.
Hnath’s play makes this story fit with the time of Ibsen’s writing and modern day. Hnath uses contemporary vernacular, with the occasional drop of an F-bomb from all characters. At the same time, the play remains true to history with costumes that reflect the Victorian era. Audience members don’t have to be familiar with “A Doll’s House” to enjoy “Part 2.” Although it doesn’t describe the events of Ibsen’s play with great detail, it also doesn’t leave viewers confused about what happened with this family.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” earned eight Tony nominations, including Best Play. Hnath’s other plays include “The Christians,” — which Steppenwolf produced in 2016 — “Hillary and Clinton” and “Red Speedo.”
Filled with quick-witted humor and drama so intense the auditorium sits in silence, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” tackles feminism, marriage, family, love, trust and betrayal.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” will run at the Steppenwolf Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St.) through March 17. Student tickets can be purchased online for $15 with a valid ID and on-stage seating is available for $30 on the theater’s website.