Friday, 24 August 2018

A Doll's House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath - Melbourne Theatre Company

Greg Stone, plus The Door, and Marta Dusseldorf
A Doll's House, Part 2
Imagining what happened after a story is over is natural, especially if the ending is ambiguous or unclear. There’s a lot of dramatic tension to be mined from the question “what comes next” - the audience will probably discuss the possibilities as soon as they leave the theatre.
When Nora walked out on her family and slammed the door behind her at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, it caused widespread controversy when the play debuted in 1879. Ibsen’s German agent had him re-write the ending for that country, which he later regretted.
In 2014, Belvoir theatre produced Nora by Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks, a contemporary re-telling of A Doll’s House that followed her out that door. The concept of a sequel is tempting; writing it for a bone fide classic is a risky proposition.
Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2 picks up fifteen years after Nora left her family. She returns to finalise a divorce that her husband Torvald never formalised. In turn-of-Twentieth-Century Norway, Nora has become a popular novelist - but as a still-married woman, she could be arrested for fraud, having signed contracts and the like. Not to mention the many men she has slept with.
Centering the play around Nora trying to convince Torvald to give her a divorce feels reductive; to have one of the great heroines of theatre foiled by paperwork is maddening. Yes, the tale is about a woman's lack of power a century ago - and as a modern play, Part 2 brings up the question of how much has or hasn't changed.
And by bring it up, I mean Hnath puts some pretty turgid dialogue into the characters' mouths. There's no subtlety here, no nuance. What is this play about? Let Nora, Torvald, Anne-Marie and Emmy tell you. Over and over again.
At the centre of Sarah Goodes' production at MTC is a door. The door Nora slammed shut fifteen years ago. Perhaps that ending raises the question of what comes next, but a slammed door feels like a pretty definitive full stop. The door sits centre stage and recedes into the sparse pale-blue set of this house for dolls. (The door returns to the centre of the stage at the end. Is it there to take a bow?)
Marta Dusseldorp's performance as Nora is declamatory, both vocally and physically. She spreads her legs so defiantly so many times, I wondered if that was part of Hnath's script. The character has returned to explain her problem with the world and her belief that in fifteen more years the world will change. We know it won't. We know it hasn't. We wonder why this play is underlining this idea so vigorously; spelled out early on and explicated in the final moments of this never-awaited sequel.
Greg Stone's Torvald elicits some sympathy until he flails around claiming he's a good man, as so many oblivious men seem to do, thinking that absolves them of their many flaws. 
Zoe Terakes, as daughter Emmy, plays the comedy the whole endeavour tends to evoke; what else but satire does so much over-writing and over-acting suggest?
There's some widescreen video of the audience and of Nora approaching and leaving the house once more, off into a field that evokes nothing more than Julie Andrews twirling atop hills that are alive with music. The bird that flies by is probably an eagle. I'm surprised, given the heavy-handedness of this production, it wasn't a wild duck.

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