‘A Doll’s House, Parts 2’ explores marriage, identity and compromise

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Leave it to George Street Playhouse to produce a play that works on so many levels. We have the familiar slamming-the-door exit of Nora Helmut, who abruptly leaves her secure life with Torvald for parts unknown

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This play by Lucas Hnath received a successful run on Broadway, with Oscars for the playwright and its star Laurie Metcalf. Here, Nora is played with insight and clarity by Kellie Overbey. But the play isn’t just about Nora, it’s about a person’s right to choose (male or female) and the price you pay for those choices. Nora leaves Torvald to discover who she is as a person, to develop a life of her own. Yes, there are recriminations and guilt, but still, the search for identity remains the key in this thoughtful, searing account of interior lives.

Betsy Aidem has directed an exemplary cast in bringing to life such iconic characters. Andrew Garman as Torvald has the advantage of still being viral and robust enough to remember his life with Nora, his affection for her.  He admits, late in the play, that he may have expressed this in ways that were, ultimately demeaning. But still, he tries his best to be a strong, considerate husband. Lily Santiago as Emmy, their daughter, is spot on as the outspoken, yet very-grown-up offspring who can clearly see the rift between these two. She even states that they were all better off when Nora left. Yet she also crystallizes the alternatives to marriage: being alone, having no one to share life’s everyday problems with, learning to love despite complications. Then we have Ann McDonough as Anne Marie, the long-time servant in the household who essentially raised the children after Nora left. She has her own insights on the price they have all paid for Nora’s decision.

In their heated exchange, Torvald says, “You left me. I didn’t leave you.” Then there’s the difficulty of explaining Nora’s disappearance and ultimately people believed that she died. Nora has returned to ask for a divorce, after 15 years. Initially, Torvald rejects the idea.  Because she chose to leave, why should he give her any forgiveness for damaging the family? There are questions upon questions in this play, which is no doubt why Ibsen’s original “A Doll’s House” has had such a lasting impact.  

The set, by Deb O, is bleak. The rough-hewn floor and bare walls project a world that is barely surviving in this small Norwegian town. Costumes by Olivia Gajic reflect the period, with Nora in wine-red while her daughter Emmy appears in monotones of grey and cream. Lighting by Rick Fisher reflects time changes as minutes move into hours with the gradual confrontations of the characters.  

Much of the language is contemporary, with references to “kids,” not “children” and swear words that would hardly have been spoken, or even thought of, in Victorian times.

Yet for all the differences, this is a brave, probing work, giving us much to ponder. Performances of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” continue at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through Dec. 23. For tickets , call 732-246-7717 or visit GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org.