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Review: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ conflicts audiences over timeless debate

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Review: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ conflicts audiences over timeless debate

John Judd and Mary Beth Fisher perform in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of

John Judd and Mary Beth Fisher perform in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "A Doll's House, Part 2." / Photo courtesy Kevin Berne, Huntington Theatre Company.

John Judd and Mary Beth Fisher perform in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "A Doll's House, Part 2." / Photo courtesy Kevin Berne, Huntington Theatre Company.

John Judd and Mary Beth Fisher perform in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "A Doll's House, Part 2." / Photo courtesy Kevin Berne, Huntington Theatre Company.

Nia Beckett, lifestyle editor

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Henrik Ibsen’s late-19th century classic play “A Doll’s House” challenged women’s restrictive roles in society and left viewers pondering the fate of main character Nora Helmers after she walked out on her family at the conclusion of the play. Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which was first staged in 2017, imagines her life 15 years after her departure as a successful author and critic of marriage.

The Les Waters-directed play, featuring a four-person cast and a simple set, begins as Nora returns to her former home after running into trouble over her divorce, which her husband Torvald never finalized. After holding legal contracts and having casual relationships during her time away under the assumption that she was a single woman, Nora is set to face legal consequences if she cannot convince Torvald to divorce her.

Nora captivates the audience with excitement about the new life she built, describing her well-known book and her anti-marriage mantra to her former nanny Anne Marie. She predicts an idyllic society where “30 years from now” (the mid-1920s in the play’s timeline), marriage and monogamy would be uncommon, and the irony is not lost on the audience.

Gender roles are central to Nora’s conflict as men could easily initiate divorce, whereas women must go to great lengths to prove they had been wronged by their husband. The audience thus sympathizes with Nora’s passionate yet somewhat narcissistic self-expressions as a free woman with radical ideas. The juxtaposition of late 19th century clothing and modern language accentuates the timelessness of the subject, reminding the audience of how gender role conflicts continue to affect modern life.

Though the 90-minute play does not have an intermission, it is divided by the names of the characters displayed on the wall, indicating focus on their side of the story. This structure gives the audience time to connect with each character, then change their minds as they develop a more holistic view of what happened when Nora left.

Torvald describes his frustration with the abruptness of Nora’s departure, while their daughter, Emmy, shrugs at the experience of growing up without her, which made her mature more quickly than her peers. The nanny, Anne Marie, feels distressed about being left behind to raise Nora’s children and comfort Torvald.

The audience’s revelation of what little regard Nora gave her family when she left soon overshadows praise for her independence. Nora returned with the expectation of cheers and intrigue from her family, but one by one, her family members instead reveal their afflictions from her absence, and her blissfully ignorant demeanor soon fades to guilt.

As the play ends, the Helmers struggle to reconcile upon Nora’s return, and the audience is conflicted over which characters to sympathize with in this familial debate. The Huntington Theatre Company will present “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at the Huntington Avenue Theatre through Feb. 3.

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