A contemporary sequel of a groundbreaking classic makes its Montreal premiere this season after opening on Broadway and amassing eight Tony Award nominations (including “Best Play”) in 2017. Written by Lucas Hnath and directed by Caitlin Murphy – who here makes her professional directional debut – an ambitiously titled follow-up proves yet another score for the Segal in this amiable production of a compact tragicomedy.
A speculative continuation of Henrik Ibsen’s influential and controversial 1879 problem play, “A Doll’s House: Part 2” picks the story up 15 years later when 19th century Norwegian housewife Nora Helmer returns to knock on the same door she once famously slammed shut. Having then escaped a charade of a marriage with a heroically dramatic exit for the books, Nora (a manifestly gritty Sarah Constible) here reappears alive and well as she comes back to confront the very family she left behind: her banker husband Torvald (a comically baffled Oliver Becker), now-grown daughter Emmy (a charmingly poised Ellie Moon), and former nanny Anne-Marie (a delightfully sensible Victoria Barkoff), who brought up Nora’s children in her absence.
Nora emerges through the patent door as a best-selling author writing proto-feminist novels under a pseudonym – prosperous, independent, liberated, and outspoken. Having discovered that Torvald never actually filed the divorce papers and finding herself in (yet another) blackmail scheme, however, she’s back to take care of business and sever ties for good. Tensions simmer and rise to the surface, and what ensues is a brisk, crisp, and biting battle of conflicting ideas on freedom, family, and love.
Told in contemporary, conversational vernacular, the lightweight “Part 2” brings fresh perspective on known characters. One need not know the minutiae of the predecessor, but familiarity with the source material certainly adds resonance to a vigorous standalone piece that is a respectful rebuttal to the classic.
Hnath broaches Ibsen’s pioneering denunciation of traditional gender roles and the institution of marriage as “imprisonment” and “ownership” of women – a measure which earned the polemical original work its distinction – but doesn’t necessarily uphold it, presenting instead sophisticated arguments for varying viewpoints. Typically structured as one-on-one encounters between its vibrant personages, the script arranges for close, meaningful conversations that question feminist ideals with wit and humour. It’s thoroughly thought-provoking and affectingly real in its blunt analysis on the complexity of relationships and the consequences of choice.
“A Doll’s House: Part 2” toys with juxtaposition – of time, images, and ideas – and the concept is reflected in its peculiar aesthetic. Design elements balance period references with the modern, and are stripped to their bare essentials (most prominent, perhaps, are Louise Bourret’s trendy costumes, but Pierre Étienne Locas’s set, Anne-Marie Rodrigue Lecours’s lighting, and Christian Thomas’s compositions are all of notable mention). Anachronisms function as a source of humour, even, as obscenities in language somehow here find their righteous place. The austerely spare set (and its strategically angled ceiling with projected titles) fundamentally positions the dialogue in focus, and it is its fine delivery by an energetic ensemble cast that drives the breezy production.
Ibsen’s masterwork has here spurred a tour de force of its own that transcends generations with its compelling perspectives on patriarchal oppression and women’s rights. “The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would,” laments Nora, but we have indeed been changed by the engaging 90-minute encounter to reflect on our own outlooks.
The pleasing affair – currently the most widely produced play in America (per American Theatre) – runs in Montreal through December 9th, 2018.
The Segal Centre for Performing Arts presents
A Doll’s House: Part 2
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Caitlin Murphy
November 18th – December 9th, 2018
90 minutes without intermission
The Sylvan Adams Theatre at the Segal Centre
5170 Chemin de la Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, QC H3W 1M7
$47 – $62
Group, Senior, Student, Under 30 discounts available.
* Subject to availability.