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Theater Review: “A Doll’s House, Part 2”

Shannon Cochran and ​Lynn Milgrim in South Coast Repertory's 2017 world premiere of ​A Doll's House, Part 2
Photo credit:
Debora Robinson/SCR

Oh, that Nora Torvald. Really, running off and leaving husband and small children, just because she wasn’t happy? As my grandma would have said with disdain, “The idea!”

Henrik Ibsen’s play caused a massive amount of controversy when it opened in 1879. The London Evening Standard said, “It would be a misfortune were such a morbid and unwholesome play to gain the favour of the public.”

But the play has endured (and become a classic), spawning many sequels, adaptations and parodies. South Coast Repertory commissioned playwright Lucas Hnath to give us an idea what might have happened fifteen years after Nora slammed that door in “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” now in its world premiere in Costa Mesa, and set to open on Broadway in a few weeks.

Torvald’s house looks a wreck now: he immediately got rid of all the furniture she had bought, and what’s left is pretty shabby-looking: a few old chairs in a corner and bare walls where there once was art.

The whole place looks gray, including housekeeper Anne Marie (Lynn Milgrim), her hair pulled back into a tight bun at the back. 

But it’s a radiant Nora (Shannon Cochran) who greets Anne Marie at the door in a gorgeous floor-length lipstick-red gown with poufy-to-fitted sleeves, topped off with a white cape and a three-strand sparkly black necklace. (Credit Sara Ryung Clement for the costumes.)

The intervening years have been kind to Nora. She has become an author of books about women. And now spouts her philosophy: “I no longer see a reason for marriage. Most people would be happier without it.”'

Ah, the same old Nora. She’s here because she needs Torvald’s help. It seems he was supposed to file for divorce, but never did, and now she needs that decree in order to be allowed to sign her own legal papers.

She asks Anne Marie for help with Torvald, but her old housekeeper is a loyal employee and wants no part of that.

Torvald (Bill Geisslinger) comes in unexpectedly (it seems he forgot something he needs at work) and doesn’t even recognize Nora at first. But it’s clear he’s still smarting about that slammed door, asserting “I wish I’d left you before you left me.”

They both need closure. And so does daughter Emmy, by now of marriageable age and engaged. Torvald is in a position to give them all that relief.

The ensuing conversations reveal that people do what they must – or what they will – and it’s how that nexus fits into each character’s arc that gives the play its drama.

Shelley Butler has a good handle on these four characters and gives them room to spread their wings when necessary and reveal their flaws at the right moments. 

Tom Ontiveros and Cricket S. Myers contribute fine lighting (including some most effective silhouettes) and sound design. 

Vale’s Emmy adds a modern touch and a character not seen in the original play

Milgrim is convincing as the family housekeeper Anne Marie, loyal to a fault. 

But this is about Nora and Torvald, and Cochran and Geisslinger are worthy adversaries. For those who have wanted a modern ending, “Part 2” will not disappoint.

The details

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” plays through April 30, 2017 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Tuesday through Sunday at 7:45 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm 

Tickets: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org