As my companion, Marsha, observed after Friday’s opening of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” when all was said and done, every character had something reasonable to say.
The 2017 script, by Lucas Hnath, is a rich imagining of what would happen if Ibsen’s Nora returned home after closing the door on her way out 15 years before. And the production at SCP could not be better. With a cast of four superb actors spooling out pages of stimulating dialogue that bring the characters to vivid life, on a stripped-down set (by Joseph Fava) and under Fava’s point-perfect direction, the experience is like listening to a string quartet, with each voice having its say in the service of the larger piece.
Fava’s notes in the program summarize the Ibsen play just enough to help us recognize the four members of the Helmer household: Nora (Cristine M. Loffredo), husband Torvald (Michael Schaefer), daughter Emmy (Maddie Illenberg), and house maid Anne Marie (Carol Charniga).
Dressed (by Fava and Marcia Thomas) in a white blouse, red vest, and red skirt, the newly returned Nora is in striking contrast to the whites, blacks, and greys of the others’ clothing. No wonder. She has gone out into the world, abandoning her husband and three small children to breathe — and dress — freely as a woman in a patriarchal society.
Now she’s rich, the result of a successful career as a writer of books about the soul-crushing nature of marriage, using hers as an example to urge other women in bad unions to get up and out.
But now she needs something from Torvald to avoid a scandal, and in the process of retrieving it, she and the other three — stunned by her sudden reappearance — discuss the past and try to figure out what’s next.
The conversations are sometimes funny, often recriminating, and occasionally sad. Topics? Male privilege, economic status, the institution of marriage and reputation.
Anne Marie is a woman who can legitimately complain about her aches and pains of growing older, the lack of any money, the challenge of raising Nora’s three children after Nora left, and the regret at having to abandon her own child to do so. When Nora comes back, Anne Marie unloads, with a handful of curse words peppering the lamentations. Charniga peels away the layers of Anne Marie’s personality with surgical precision.
Illenberg’s Emmy has a mind as made up as her mother’s. The repartee between mother and daughter is reminiscent of the prickly conversations between Mrs. Warren and daughter Vivie in Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” another late 19th-century exploration of women’s roles. Illenberg’s physical steeliness and insightful line readings bring this young woman to life.
Michael Schaefer has never been better. With only a look or a brief comment delivered in his resonant and quiet voice, Schaefer initially shows us Torvald’s grief at being abandoned and, later, his anger. At one point Torvald says to Nora, “You had an epiphany and walked out,” a devastating observation about choice vs. responsibility that, thanks to Schaefer’s performance, conveys bewilderment, sorrow, and fury all at the same time.
Even with some leftover perky mannerisms from her life as a dutiful housewife 15 years before, Nora is not the same woman: she has experienced life on the edge as an independent female. But in Loffredo’s stunning, three-dimensional depiction---expansive and energetic at times, introverted and subdued at others — Nora’s bravado is not always believable. She says, defiantly, “No regrets,” to Torvald, but we can read between the lines.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is nourishing food for thought, served up with intelligence, artistry and passion.