Review: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ stuns and delights at Berkeley Rep

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Nora (Mary Beth Fisher) and Anne Marie (Nancy E. Carroll) engage in passionate conversation in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at Berkeley Rep through Oct. 21st. (Kevin Berne photo)

There is no doubt that Nora has engaged in some thrilling relationships in the 15 years since she famously shut that door on her way out.

In those years, there was an architect who designed houses. And there was the man who built the houses designed by said architect. How about the painter? And of course, there was a delicious young man whose main occupation was being young. Was it all that it was cracked up to be? Nope. But hey, it was worth a shot.

In that same amount of time, there was a much more tempered tryst for Torvald, only one. It was a neighbor. She must not have been terribly pretty, because Nora chuckled when she was mentioned.

But they played cards together, and he liked her. She liked him. The kids liked her. And she liked the kids.

Of all the impeccable moments in the stunning Berkeley Repertory Theatre production of Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” this moment stood out. Notice how Nora’s face changes. You can see that this new information cuts her deep, the discovery that another had the capability to overtake her memory was a bit much. It was in that moment that she realized that the thrill of a literary life might not compare to the simplicity of a warm, truthful smile built from an inner-glow.

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Torvald (John Judd) is overwhelmed with Nora’s intentions. (Kevin Berne photo)

Long one of my absolute favorite directors, so many of the play’s signature moments in this Les Waters-directed show were about the connection between the cast of four on Andrew Boyce’s effectively static set. Or it can be argued, the lack of connection. This play’s brilliance is in the way it drives each character’s perspective, advocates evenly for each of them, and shows Nora’s choice and how it impacted the others she left behind for the past 15 years.

First, you have the worn-down Anne Marie (the phenomenal Nancy E. Carroll). She has lost much in these years, mostly her life and any agency she might have possessed. She is also truly puzzled as to what brings Nora back, and is in no hurry to offer any warm and fuzzies.

Then there is Torvald (a masterful performance from John Judd). His character is one that is the hardest to separate from the original source material, written by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In “A Doll’s House,” Torvald is consumed with his status and his power as a financial caretaker. But here, he is a broken man, realizing much too late that his existence depended on suffocation, and in one of his most pathetic moments, realizes one of the books Nora wrote was all about him and his shortcomings.

In one of the truly surreal moments of the play, so perfectly handled, was between Nora and her distant 19-year-old daughter Emmy (a youthful, spry turn from Nikki Massoud), a woman on the verge of her own marriage. I say surreal because much like the audience, Nora was completely floored by the young Emmy’s reaction to meeting her mother. There was no clichéd, pained, or quizzical reunion. Emmy reacted in the same way a child reacts when a playdate arrives – not completely sure where to go next, but gleeful to explore what may come. It’s truly stunning.

Which brings us to Nora, who is played with wonderful, Meisnerian sensibilities from the taut Mary Beth Fisher. This is a role loaded with a critically dangerous range, and there was no moment from Fisher that was wasted. Her performance was beautifully economic, never spending more than she had at any moment. Just watch her as she processes all the information that flew her way. Hers is a role that must tread lightly, with three clear bouts of history ready to engage upon her arrival. Nora took a stand for feminism 15 years ago. She accomplished her goals for herself and for feminism but also lost plenty in the process.

At the end of the day, this is a play of ideas, truth and thought. It’s powerful on its own merits, storytelling at its finest. It examines critical issues such as marriage, agency, and does so with rich humor and plenty of good laughs.

Getting right down to it, when one of the show’s most exciting moments is the positioning of chairs in anticipation of a battle, that show must be good.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Berkeley Repertory Theatre presents “A Doll’s House, Part 2”
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Les Waters
The Word: Wildly inventive, a tight play that is gripping from start to finish, the piece soars on the backs of its impeccable four-person cast.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
The Roda Theatre
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA
Through Oct. 21st
Tickets range from $30 – $97
For tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org

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