What is the price of happiness and freedom? Can one truly walk away from a lesser life? Can the past stay in the past?
A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a thought-provoking, explosive, at times humourous, exploration of women’s rights and marriage. It is energetic and infuriating. While the story’s period is the late 19th century, the themes of relationships, sacrifice, and personal happiness are still true today.
Set 15 years after walking out of her unhappy marriage, Nora (an outstanding Sarah Constible) returns home. Her visit is not a social call. She wants her former husband, Torvald (Oliver Becker), to settle an important matter. She tells the nanny Anne-Marie (Victoria Barkoff) that she has built an exciting, and lucrative life for herself as a writer. Her books preach against the need for marriage and how it keeps women from being happy. Yet, her work has caused an unexpected legal problem. She expects Torvald to play nice and help her. However, Anne-Marie reminds Nora of the pain she caused and insists on redressing this with Torvald and her children.
But Nora does not want to reconnect in any meaningful way with the people she has left behind. Nevertheless, Torvald’s arrival throws Nora in a panic. Neither is ready to face each other but the raw anger and disappointment flies out. Their daughter, Emmy (Ellie Moon), steps in to provide perspective for Nora. The encounters and fights reveal people struggling to connect on their own terms. But the walls of selfishness, social duty, and vanity make it difficult to overcome past mistakes.
The cast is terrific. The text can be brutal but the actors bring a particular tenderness to their characters. Ms. Constible makes Nora a passionate feminist in spite of her selfishness. Mr. Becker brings a surprising physicality to a man who is broken but not beaten. Ms. Barkoff is wonderful as the voice of experience and reason. Ms. Moon easily and charmingly conveys Emmy’s smart but petulant personality.
The set is very austere; its emptiness reflects Torvald’s feelings of desertion. There is plenty of space for the big dialogues and speeches. And yet it can barely contain the two chairs. The characters seem to suck the air out of the room.
The pursuit of happiness can trample on the peace of others. Whether it’s walking away from a desperate situation or clinging to the status quo, there will be pain and chaos. The truth can be liberating. But the story never ends.
Photo credit: Leslie Schachter
A Doll’s House, Part 2: a Segal Centre Production. Directed by Caitlin Murphy. Written by Lucas Hnath. Show continues until December 9, 2018, at Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal. For tickets call the box office 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org