Review: The power of passionate conversation in 'A Doll's House, Part 2' proves a tonic in violent times

by Nancy Churnin, Dallas Morning News

Read the piece and see the photographs at Dallas Morning News. Support arts reporting with your clicks!

Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, an 1879 play about a woman who finds herself in a suffocating marriage and in a society that will not treat her as an equal, ends with a slammed door that "reverberated across the roof of the world," as the late American critic James Huneker put it.

More than 100 years later, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the play still resonates. You can see a riveting new adaptation by Joanie Schultz at WaterTower Theatre in Addison through Nov. 4. Just make sure not to miss A Doll's House, Part 2, the stirring regional premiere of Lucas Hnath's 2017 Broadway sequel at Stage West in Fort Worth.

A Doll's House, Part 2 begins with Nora opening the door to return home after 15 years. But this isn't just a sequel about what happens next. This is an opportunity for four characters to make very different cases for how they feel about love and marriage. Collectively, they're a reminder that there isn't one right answer, but even the best-meant choices won't work unless they're right for all those involved. 

Shannon J. McGrann brings self-assured force to the larger-than-life Nora, who sweeps back in through that door, sure of what she wants and feels. She's spent the 15 years learning to know herself, her needs, her wants and her dreams. Then, delicately, we see some of her surety chipped away as she catches up with those she left behind. 

Judy Keith's worn Anne Marie, the governess who stayed behind to care for Torvald and the children that Nora left, dishes up a harsh reminder that the only reason Nora had the luxury to go off and find herself was that she knew she could rely on Anne Marie to stay and pick up the emotional pieces.

As Nora's husband, J. Brent Alford's deeply affecting Torvald brings home the anguish of a man who is trying to understand what he did wrong and why he was judged for doing what he was taught that a man was supposed to do. As Nora's grown-up daughter, Emmy, Amber Marie Flores chills with a smile that is as smooth as petits four icing over anger for the mother who abandoned the family when she and her brothers were too little to understand what was happening.

Clare Shaffer's carefully equilibrated direction threads a tense, provocative balance among the viewpoints. The  rawness of the characters' feelings feel all the sharper in contrast with the simple elegance of Karlee Peregro's set and Jeremy M. Bernardoni's lovely period costumes.

There seemed at first to be an uneasy dissonance in A Doll's House, Part 2 opening on the day of the Pittsburgh shootings that left 11 dead. After all, what does a play like this have to say at a time of gunshots and grieving? It turns out, serendipitously, that it has a lot to say not just about marriage, but about how people with passionately opposing ideas, some expressed with strong language, can talk, empathize and, at critical moments, agree to disagree. Respect for another person's opinion? The possibility of understanding a point of view that you didn't before? That is a tonic for troubled times.