When Nora slams the door at the end of A DOLL’S HOUSE, she leaves behind her husband and children in order to pursue being herself. Pretty shocking for a play written in 1879!   Flash forward 15 years and we are at the start of A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2, Coyote Stageworks production of Lucas Hnath’s brilliant sequel, of sorts, to Ibsen’s original masterpiece.  I say of sorts because through much of the play it is not plot that propels the script as much as it is a philosophical exercise between the 4 characters who inhabit the play.  The subject at hand deals with Nora’s (Robin McAlpine) past desires and her more immediate needs.  Having become a successful author, she now has the independence for which she so desperately longed.  She owns her own home, is free from the shackles of marriage and has had affairs with numerous gentlemen.  Upon finding out that her husband never filed the divorce papers, she realizes that since owning a business was illegal for women without her husband’s consent, everything she has worked so hard for could be taken away and that she could, in fact, wind up in jail! So she returns home to confront her husband, Torvald (Don Amendolia) who says he will not file for divorce.  But at the time of the play (late 1800’s) when a wife asks for a divorce she must prove abusive or horrendous behavior on the part of her husband. Nora refuses to lie and so seeks the council of the housekeeper and her one-time nanny, Ann Marie (Barbara Gruen) to figure out a plan.  But the woman she was sure would be an ally is not and tells her she is done cleaning up after Nora and to handle the situation herself.  She does suggest that Nora’s daughter, Emmy (Lizzie Schmelling) might be able to persuade Torvald.  But yet again her daughter, with whom she has had no contact during her 15 year absence refuses. 

What makes this play so wonderful and riveting is how each of the people Nora asks to help has a different take on why Nora’s past behavior was not only selfish but harmful.  When Nora says she was brave to do what she did, she is confronted with the accusation that she was, in fact, a coward and ran away rather than stay and find a way to make being a wife and a mother palpable.  When she says her husband has to file for divorce, his reply is simple; since she is the one who wanted a divorce and he did not, it is up to her to do it, no matter how hard the task.  When her daughter tells her she is engaged to be married, Nora starts telling her how awful the current form of marriage is for a wife and how she hopes to help the world change its view on a woman’s role and rights as a wife. Her daughter counters with the argument that what is right for Nora may not be right for her and how dare Nora cast even the slightest shadow of doubt on a marriage between a man she has not met and a daughter who she doesn’t even know or seemingly care about. It is these conversations showing that for each of Nora’s ideas of how she was right to do what she did 15 years prior there is a counter argument of how it was totally wrong and even harmful. Perception of reality is clearly different based upon whose eyes are doing the viewing.  This wonderfully written play also makes us look at how much and how little things have changed in the role of the sexes in marriage.

While all this might sound a bit dull and tedious, trust me, it is not.  The superb cast under the flawless direction of Chuck Yates keep things moving at a brisk pace.  The dialogue is often written in a contemporary vernacular which in the hands of a less skillful writer would stand out as pure gimmickry, here it underscores the universality of the play’s themes and posed questions. There is a great deal of humor in the play which the cast successfully mines and what a great cast it is.  Each of the 4 actors makes his/her character into a three dimensional human being with strengths and flaws alike.  While it is hard to sympathize with Nora, Robin McAlpine brings enough underlying vulnerability and warmth to the role that prevents her from being unlikeable which would be a serious  disservice to the play.  Barbara Gruen’s Anne Marie is tough and tender all at once. Don Amendolia’s touching portrayal of Torvald gets us on his side by showing not only the anger he has amassed over the last 15 years but the hurt and shame he has felt as well.  As Emmy, Lizzie Schmelling infuses her performance with style and flair which supports her claim of being an old soul and is truly wise for her age.  She creates an Emmy who is simultaneously both strong and vulnerable.

I would definitely consider this production of A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART TWO as a must see, regardless of whether you are familiar with the original play or not.  It truly stands tall by itself.  For tickets or more information contact Coyote Stageworks at 760-318-0024 or visit https://www.coyotestageworks.org.

Photos by David A. Lee