Theater Review: A Doll's House, Part 2

Nov 8, 2018

Elizabeth Terrel and Paul Strolli in the Farmer's Alley Theatre's production of "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Credit Rob Weiner / Farmer's Alley Theatre

Farmer's Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo has a new production: A Doll's House, Part 2." But it's not the classic original drama by Henrik Ibsen. WMUK's Gordon Bolar has this review:


Although the focus of “A Doll’s House, Part 2”, is on the institution of marriage in late 19th century Norway, modern audiences find present-day resonance in Lucas Hnath’s illuminating dissection of matrimony.

Such was the case with D. Terry Williams’ carefully crafted, crisp, and very funny production at Farmers Alley Theatre’s at an invited dress preview on Thursday, November 1.

The script is based on Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House”. And no, you need not have read the original to enjoy this production.

Hnath’s “Part 2” posits Nora’s return to the Helmer household, 15 years after slamming the door and walking out on her husband and children. The purpose of Nora’s visit: to complete the divorce never finalized by her husband and thus secure her reputation as an author on women’s issues and a woman of independent means.

As nanny Ann Marie, husband Torvald, and now adult daughter Emmy weigh in on Nora’s past actions, difficulties emerge for Nora’s prospects to secure official dissolution of the marriage.

The cast of "A Doll's House, Part 2," at the Farmer's Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo
Credit Becky Klose / Farmer's Alley Theatre

There are a number of duo scenes in which each character presents his or her perspective at length and backs up their respective viewpoint with examples, logic, and emotion. Fortunately, Hnath’s conversational dialogue and a cast of seasoned performers keep these lively and sometimes passionate exchanges fresh, contemporary, and prevent them from ever coming across as “talky” debates.

Zoe Vonder Haar, as Ann Marie, is full of surprises as she casually tosses off expletives that punctuate a list of grievances she has had with Nora’s precipitous exit. Vonder Haar finds the humor in Ann Marie’s attempt to muster half-hearted enthusiasm for Nora’s “guess my occupation” game.

Arizsia Staton, as Emmy, presents a strong-willed and resourceful daughter who holds her own with Nora as she enumerates the advantages of marriage while revealing her own engagement.

Paul Strolli portrays Torvald sympathetically, and as neither monster nor victim. Despite any grudge he might hold for his wife, he displays what might be a spark of desire to reunite with Nora. The beauty of Strolli’s performance lies in the believable journey he makes during the course of the evening from denial to acceptance of the fate of a marriage that was never meant to be and has no future. A key here for Strolli is not losing sight of the humanity or the weaknesses of one who observes that “being with people is hard.”

Elizabeth Terrel delivers a remarkable performance in the demanding role of Nora. Terrel is able to don each of the personas required of her difficult quest in hostile territory: polite guest, apologetic mother, insistent suitor for a just resolution, prosecutor of the truth, and champion of a life without lies She does all of this without the fatal mistake of making Nora shrill, a witch, or the word that rhymes with it. Terrel is a gifted actress physically and vocally. This is important for performing a character who has listened to and heeded the quiet voice within herself. It also assists her in meeting one of the key requirements for playing Hnath’s Nora. She portrays a staunchly independent woman who is also vulnerable to the rules, laws and strictures of the society in which she lives. In short we see her struggle with the system. We witness her bend but never break.

Terry William’s confidently supports the play’s shifts in status and power with blocking that is fluid, dynamic, and makes use of characters positioned with full back to the audience in some crucial exchanges.

Dan Guyette’s clean stark white and teal set appropriately underscores Nora’s three adversaries and her three options for achieving her goal with three steps and three doorways.

In light of its predecessor last year, “The Christians”, Farmers Alley’s pairing of director D. Terry Williams with a Lucas Hnath script continues to be a winning combination.

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