There’s so much meaning in a door. You can close a door to the past or open the door to a new way of thinking. Sometimes opportunity knocks at the door. Sometimes it slams shut in your face. One might say that Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, which is currently in production at Reno’s Brüka Theatre, explores the significance of doors and what can be found behind them.

Janet Lazarus as Anne Marie. Photo: Bill Quinby for Brüka Theatre

One of the most memorable doors in modern theater is that of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 oeuvre, A Doll’s House, the groundbreaking and controversial story of the marriage between Torvald and Nora Helmer. As was typical of the time in Norway, where the play is set, society was male dominated; wives had few opportunities to earn their own money and had no decision-making power. Throughout that play, Nora experiences a gradual awakening, making the (at the time) shocking decision to leave her husband and family. The play ends with the door slamming behind her, sending shockwaves that still reverberate today. It is that same door where A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins. It’s 15 years later, in 1894, there is a loud, impatient knock at the Helmers’ door. The old nanny, Anne Marie (played by Janet Lazarus), opens it to find Nora (Kimberly Gibbons) standing there. Dressed in her modern finery, the estate’s former mistress asks to be let in. The women’s reunion begins warmly but soon turns chilly as Anne Marie’s resentment, on behalf of herself and the Helmer family, begins to bubble over.

Nora, it seems, has done quite well for herself as a writer. In self-satisfied tones, she explains to Anne Marie that her life’s work has been to elucidate for women the many evils of marriage. But ironically, she has recently landed in a bit of legal trouble and has reappeared after all these years to ask for Torvald’s help.

Kimberly Gibbons as Nora. Photo: Bill Quinby for Brüka Theatre

Before long, Torvald (Bob Ives) returns home to discover his long-lost wife standing before him asking for a favor. After 15 years, he has the upper hand. Will he help extricate her from her problems, or does he have demands of his own? And will her return bring healing or harm to Torvald and their three children?

Hnath’s stunning sequel, published in 2017, takes many liberties with Ibsen’s characters. His language is utterly contemporary and relatable, even seasoned with the occasional modern-day profanity and wise-ass remark. And just as audiences find Ibsen’s play confounding in how it forces them to question where their sympathies lie, you’re likely to find Hnath’s play similarly frustrating. Who is really at fault for the demise of this marriage, and who really has the right idea about how to live? Is it Nora, who has overcome great obstacles in the name of self-fulfillment? Torvald, who has upheld society’s conventions, despite their confines? Anne Marie, who sacrificed her happiness for those she loves? Or Emmy (Piper Roe), the Torvalds’ eldest child, whose admirable belief in the importance of marriage stands in stark relief against her mother’s way of thinking.

Under the direction of longtime local thespian and theater instructor Rod Hearn, this Brüka production is a brilliant illustration of the power of live theater. No television show, no streamed video recording could ever capture the haunting power of sitting in this intimate space and being part of the frank, intimate conversations taking place in the Helmer home. 

The small cast is, across the board, impressive. Notably, Ives’ performance as Torvald is raw and deeply human, so much so that he frequently and unexpectedly moved me to chills. While Gibbons’ self-righteous Nora is capable of producing both annoyance and empathy, Lazarus is adept at giving Anne Marie surprising depth — we pity her and cheer for her simultaneously. And Roe sparkles as Emmy, who is at once innocent and beguiling, and whose capabilities, ironically, rival those of her mother. 

A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs through Feb. 19. Brüka’s door is one you should definitely enter, before this show is gone.

The remaining performances of A Doll’s House, Part 2 are on Feb. 11, 12, 17, 18 + 19 at 7:30 pm.

Tickets and information here.

Cover photo: Bill Quinby for Brüka Theatre

This article was funded by a City of Reno Arts + Culture Grant.

Posted by Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering the arts and culture scene in the Reno area for nearly two decades. See more of her work at www.jessicasantina.com.