Picking up 15 years after Ibsen’s play ends, A Doll’s House Part 2 now playing at Steppenwolf and directed by Robin Witt opens with Nora, a wife and mother returning home to visit her family after abandoning them. Bucking the constraints of society, Nora (played with joyful gusto by Sandra Marquez) has less regrets than society would expect a deadbeat mother to have. The script by playwright Lucas Hnath is smartly written and the jokes zing as it muses on the nature of a woman’s lot in the world. When Marquez brassily rails: “Marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives,” her words still have more than a whiff of taboo; a sentiment that has many notable exceptions, but can often be fact. Marriage in the strict traditional sense is quite simply a bad deal for women. Her unapologetic and firm assurance in her decision to leave creates a new and interesting lens for the stage.
A Doll’s House Part 2 entertains, but don’t expect any greater feminist revelations other than the aforementioned. The material has a bawdy slapstick that has a musty and recycled 1980’s “Battle of the Sexes” comedy that delivers a nonstop tirade of “he said, she said” zingers. Director Robin Witt has a keen eye for comic direction; the Scenic Design by Courtney O’Neill and the Lighting Design by Christine Binder create a boxing-ring effect that heightens the tension. Barbara E. Robertson’s wry and dry delivery is outrageously hilarious as the put-upon maid Anne Marie who serves as a referee between man and wife while nursing a well-earned grudge.
Yasen Peyankov is riotously funny as Torvald, the aggrieved husband, covering his wounds through a pitiful show of heartbroken machismo. His angst leads to a terrible question for the married: After spending half a lifetime with another person, can you ever truly know them? Yet when daughter Emmy (a droll and delightful Celeste M. Cooper) steps into the picture, it becomes apparent that you can know a person very well – even if you haven’t met.
A Doll’s House Part 2 teaches us that achieving self-actualization is messy at best. Having the full responsibility of agency in one’s life is no guarantee for absolute happiness, yet at least it has the promise of a good adventure in the pursuit.
A Doll’s House Part 2 runs at Steppenwolf Theatre Company through March 17th.
Celeste M. Cooper (Emmy)
Sandra Marquez (Nora)
Yasen Peyankov (Torvald)
Barbara Robertson (Anne Marie)
Robin Witt (director)
Lucas Hnath (playwright)
Courtney O’Neill (scenic design)
Izumi Inaba (costume design)
Christine Binder (lighting design)
Thomas Dixon (sound design)
Gigi Buffington (Company Voice and Text Coach)
Laura Glenn (stage manager)
Elise Hausken (assistant stage manager)
JC Clementz (casting director)
Jonathan Berry (artistic producer)
Michael Brosilow (photographer)