Theatre Review

'A Doll's House': brilliant play, brilliant cast at Gamm

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Whatever happened to Nora Helmer when she walked out on her husband and children in the “door slam heard round the world” in the final scene of Henrik Ibsen’s classic “A Doll’s House?” Director Fred Sullivan Jr.’s response is that if the playwright wanted us to know, he would have told us.

One hundred and forty-nine years later, playwright Lucas Hnath raises that question, bringing Nora home after 15 years to confront her husband. Sullivan directed Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” 10 years ago at Gamm, and he brings back Jeanine Kane and Steve Kidd as the Nora and Torvald he directed, updating the language and speculating on what might have happened.

I’ve used many adjectives over the years to describe plays and actors, but one comes to mind for “A Doll’s House, Part 2”: brilliant.

Jeanine Kane owns her character. On stage throughout the one-act, 90-minute play, she interacts brilliantly with her former nanny/maid, husband and daughter, expounding her feminist, independent philosophies both to them and to the audience.

Nora has gone on to be a controversial feminist writer, using a pseudonym to tell her story and to give her philosophy on love, marriage and parenthood, including her declaration of a woman’s independence and equality. In the opening scene, she gives her powerful monologue to the bewildered maid, Anne Marie (Debra Wise), shocking the woman who herself abandoned her own child to care for the Helmer family.

Wise is a Boston-based actress who fits in beautifully with Gamm. She is expressive, funny and knows how to naturally interact with the other actors. Her scenes with Kane are classic.

The same can be said for Steve Kidd. His stodgy persona as the abandoned husband gives you mixed feelings about him. Is he the man Nora portrays in her stories, or is he the victim of Nora’s self-interest, actions and philosophy?

While there is some humor in the play and some satirical and even sarcastic thoughts shared with the audience, the play is drama at its finest, slowly revealing secrets and offering “options” to how a difficult problem may be handled. To tell you more would be to spoil the twists and turns and discoveries each character must deal with.

Nora confronts her former maid, husband and daughter (Allison Russo, in a pivotal role), trying to explain why she left and why she has returned (one of the many surprises in the story).

Who is the victim in this story, which may hit close to home for many?

Who is right? Who is wrong? Is there any right or wrong?

What you will feel for Nora and Tovald will depend on your perspective toward marriage, equal rights, independence and upbringing.

The closing scene is as powerful as the Ibsen play. If the playwright wanted us to know what is next, he would have told us. Or just maybe there is good material for Part 3.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is at Gamm Theatre in Warwick through October 6. Tickets are $45 to $65.Call 723-4266 for reservations.

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