No sequel has ever been this powerful.
The GAMM Theatre’s production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” by Lucas Hnath, directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr. has filled the gap in our imagination for whatever happened to Nora, the first feminist character spawned nearly 140 years ago in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” the Norwegian drama that paved the way for modern American theater.
To quote longtime director and colleague Judith Swift, “Just see it. You’ll want a drink and several more acts. Ibsen would rejoice and shudder. George and Martha (the protagonists of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) look melodramatic by comparison. I say again: Just see it.”
Inspired, introspective, provocative, gripping, sometimes astonishing, “Part 2” is flawlessly acted, no small feat, as Hnath’s writing is a series of 95 minutes of meaty monologues, sewn together by the need to edify, explain, justify and plumb the depths of why Nora left husband Torvald 15 years before, what has happened to her, and how her stunning decision to leave him and three small children, an unheard of act in the 19th Century (“The door slam heard round the world,” it was called) caused three of those she left behind to scramble for the shards of their cloistered lives.
I am still spinning. While the four actors – Jeanine Kane, Steve Kidd, Debra Wise and Alison Russo – deserved the spontaneous standing ovation, I yearned for the audience to leave in silence to ponder the wrenching emotional push-me, pull-you that destroyed and simultaneously, bolstered these little lives.
There will be no finer play staged this year anywhere in New England. There is also a neat synchronicity in the staging. Kane, Kidd and Sullivan are reunited, having starred in the GAMM’s production in the same roles nine years ago, mirroring almost the same time frame in which this deep “sequel” concludes.
Scratch that. There are no conclusions. I could wax on the many nuances, but the most fascinating aspect of the writing is that you, as an audience member, will waver back and forth with your sympathies. First, especially if you are female, you will root for Nora and her explosive independence, growth, and her new important role as Norway’s first feminist writer.
But as her new history is revealed (and her dilemma exposed), you will find your emotional allegiances turning to Anne Marie, the tortured servant who raised both Nora and her three deserted children, then back to Nora, then to Torvald, the deeply wounded and embarrassed spouse, then back to Nora, and finally to Emmy, her only distant daughter.
It is psychological ping pong, dotted by perfect direction, delivered in ways that might question your own marriage; certainly, the institution of marriage itself. Is wedded bliss really a torturous trap or the ultimate union of lonely souls over time to rail against the ravages of the universe?
“Marriage is cruel and it destroys women’s lives,” says Nora, causing at least one woman in the audience (recently divorced) to burst into spontaneous applause. “End marriage. It will be a thing of the past.”
Kane has evolved into a R.I. stage goddess. I can think of no finer actor presently pronouncing on any local stage. It is a satisfying pleasure to revel in her performance.
Kidd matches her in this play with the depth of pain from betrayal that will mist your eyes. Wise hits all the right nanny notes of twitchy humor, indignation, spontaneous resentment and wisdom. Russo is singularly perfect as the daughter Nora lost; a greater tragedy than even the pontificating mother can begin to understand.
“This future where we are all just nomads. Is that really what you want?” asks the penetrating Emmy.
Fred Sullivan, Jr.’s career as director (about 30 productions and counting) is on the verge of exceeding his unsurpassed four-decade career as performer. There is no clutter on the stage, literally. Just some chairs and a turning set of that infamous door, inside and out, just like the characters who bang on it.
The play rightly begins with loud knocking on that door and its second denouement. As Nora and Torvald say, near the finale, “It’s so hard being with people! Does it have to be?”
Not these people. A complete pleasure.
The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets are $45, $55 and $65; Call 401-723-4266 or order online at gammtheatre.org.