Steppenwolf Theatre Stages Lucas Hnath's Update to Ibsen Classic
Nora (Sandra Marquez) makes her entrance through the very door she had made her exit in what used to be called A Doll’s House, but now —thanks to playwright Lucas Hnath —will likely be thought by everyone in the audience as A Doll’s House Part 1.
Nora’s name is projected above the door reminiscent of how scenes are set in a TV crime show drama—as it will be later for her one-time husband Torvald (Yasen Peyankov), the maid Anne Marie (Barbara E. Robertson) who raised not only Nora but the children Nora left behind, Nora’s daughter Emmy (Celeste M. Cooper), and for a finale showdown yet again between Torvald and Nora that wraps the play.
More Than Usual, Where You Sit Matters
Part of the audience doesn’t see these name projections, as they are seated on the stage wrapped around the room of the action. Or maybe they do??? Watching them watch the action is part of the scene. And, much like watching the brave souls similarly on display in Terrace Seats in Symphony Center, we are lured into forgetting that these patrons on the stage actually have a lot more faces and reactions to look at.
Much as each audience member’s perspective depends in large part on where they sit in the theater, Hnath’s fun script revisiting Ibsen’s exploration of marriage norms is all about POV (Point of View). We re-meet these four characters from A Doll’s House Part I (sic), as they re-meet each other and catch up on the last fifteen years since Nora walked out on her family. In this Doll’s House though, they speak unabashed anachronistic dialogue, seasoned here or there with F-words and S**T. This writer--whose allergy to such out-of-place-and-time lingo usually brings on a case of near fatal hives--somehow found it all more than charming.
With Hnath’s script we smile a LOT, and especially when Barbara E. Robertson—who is hiding her real-world glamour with a studied limp and stooped posture—pops out an expletive. She gets to say, to paraphrase, “Hey Nora, don’t look to me for great sympathy ‘cuz I did the hard work of raising your babies and frankly I never had the kind of life options you did just ‘cuz your Daddy was rich.” In this writer’s view it’s a great role and even greater performance, which is also true of Yasen Peyankov’s Torvald, who shows the world what a Jackie Gleason styled slow-burn looks like when soaked in Scandinavian restraint born on long thinks on the fjord.
Tip: Re-Read Ibsen Classic Before You Go
The program notes interview with Director Robin Witt posits that you don’t need to know Ibsen’s classic in order to enjoy this work. Maybe. This writer—admittedly likely in the very small minority in the audience who are still processing Claire Bloom’s reprisal of Nora at a time of feminist bloom in New York City all these decades later— wished she had re-read Ibsen prior to walking into the theater.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playwright: Lucas Hnath
Director: Robin Witt
Cast: Celeste M. Cooper; Sandra Marquez; Yasen Peyankov; and Barbara E. Roberston
Production Team: Courtney O’Neill (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Christine Binder (lighting design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), and Gigi Buffington (Company Voice and Text Coach). Additional credits include Laura Glenn (Production Stage Manager), Elise Hausken (assistant stage manager),JC Clementz (casting director) and Jonathan Berry (artistic producer).
Thru March 17
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 7:30pm.
Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre
1650 N Halsted Street
Available through Steppenwolf Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or via the Steppenwolf Theatre website.
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Note: Excerpts of Picture this Post reviews appear in Theatre in Chicago.