Nora’s come back to the “doll’s house” she once called home, though how long she’ll stay is anybody’s guess in Lucas Hnath’s audacious, scabrous, wordy, discussion-prompting, and often surprisingly droll sequel to the Henrik Ibsen classic, the South Coast Repertory World Premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2.

Ibsen fans will recall the last time we saw Nora, fed up with a husband whose litany of pet names made her feel more “little skylark” than equal partner. Then again, under the late-1870s Norwegian legal system she was basically her husband’s property.

No wonder then that Part 1’s Nora faced dire consequences for having once borrowed money without her husband’s permission, even if it was to save his life, and no wonder either that Nora (Shannon Cochran in A Doll’s House, Part 2) walked out, on a marriage, on her children, on her life, intending never to return.

Silver-haired servant Anne-Marie (Lynn Milgrim), therefore, has good reason to be dumfounded when a knock on the door reveals her onetime mistress, grown glamorous as all get-out in the fifteen years since she bid hubby Torvald (Bill Geisslinger) goodbye.

Perhaps not surprisingly for the times, Anne-Marie chalks Nora’s stunning red-white-and-black ensemble to “luck” and when pressed for a less random reason for her mistress’s obvious good fortune, she guesses actress or dancer or “something having to do with clothes.”

It turns out, however, that Nora has become a successful writer, her pseudonymous first novel centering a woman trapped in a “good marriage” that so suffocated her that she dared to leave her husband and start a life of her own.

Unlike her fictional heroine, dead of consumption on publisher’s orders, a divorced Nora has thrived, not only financially and romantically but as a role model for wives who, following her protagonist’s example, have summoned up the courage to seek fulfillment on their own.

Unfortunately for Nora, one disgruntled ex-husband has uncovered her identity, and worse still, has learned that, despite Torvald’s promise to give his “pretty little pet” a divorce, the two have remained married these past fifteen years, rendering an astonished Nora guilty of multiple extramarital affairs and fraudulent book contracts.

In other words, if Nora can’t convince Torvald to divorce her, she’ll soon find herself in boiling hot water if not behind bars.

Despite A Doll’s House, Part 2’s 1890s setting, Hnath’s sensibility and perspective are decidedly contemporary throughout, whether in Nora’s exhortation to Anne Marie to “keep on guessing” her line of work because “this is fun,” or Anne Marie’s “Well shit. Shit, Nora, shit,” when asked for help in getting her master’s signature on divorce papers, or in Nora’s clearly misguided belief that in twenty or thirty years, marriage will be passé, people will have multiple spouses over a lifetime, and the green-eyed monster will be no more.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 can get talky, and I must admit to tuning out there for a while when Nora and Torvald got into rehashing their marriage in extended monologs.

Fortunately, once Nora’s now adult daughter Emmy (Virginia Vale) has arrived to confront the mother she never knew, things perk up considerably, and if nothing else, playwright Hnath has given his audience (particularly those of the married persuasion) plenty to talk about on the drive home.

Under Shelley Butler’s incisive direction, Milgrim’s dithery, four-letter-word-loving Anne Marie, Geisslinger’s stuffy, still bitter Torvald, and Vale’s pursed-mouthed Daddy’s girl of an Emmy all shine, but it is Cochran’s radiant, captivating, razor-edged, fierce-and-fearless Nora who owns the show.

Takeshi Kata and Se Hyun Oh’s stark, high-walled, windowless set, strikingly lit by Tom Ontiveros, evokes the sterility of Torvald’s home and his marriage to Nora. Sara Ryung Clement’s costumes could not be more exquisite, Nora’s scarlet number in particular, and Cricket S. Myer’s provides her accustomed accomplished sound design.

Kimberly Colburn is dramaturg. Joshua Marchesi is production manager. Bree Sherry is stage manager. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA.

If you can get past its talkier sections, A Doll’s House, Part 2, holds multiple rewards, not the least of which is its luminous leading lady. Even at the play’s wordiest, Shannon Cochran will have you spellbound.

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South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
April 23, 2017
Photos: Deborah Robinson/SCR


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