“Originally staged in Germany in 1891, 12 years after the premiere of A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler reinforced Ibsen’s growing reputation for realism and social provocativeness. The idea that a woman of privilege would mess with the lives and minds of others in her social and family circles — from a need for entertainment, spite, existential ennui, or all of the above — was quite subversive at the turn of the 20th century. In 2020, a time when women running for the nation’s highest office still have to worry about ‘likability,’ not much social edge has been shaved from Hedda’s unapologetic, mercenary approach to create an engaging existence for herself.
In a prosaic vacuum, the character remains easy to experience as a singular act of naked and arbitrary cruelty. However, the TUTA Theatre reimagining, as adapted and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Stone, takes away that audience privilege, with the inventive addition of an angry rock opera device that lets us deeper inside the mind of a living, breathing borderline personality disorder.
Giving theatergoers hints of Alanis Morrisette’s seminal 1995 feminist scream, Jagged Little Pill (recently adapted into a Broadway musical), with a dash of Trent Reznor’s disaffected nihilism, this take on Hedda leverages strategically deployed musical numbers to help audience members get at the “why?” that drives the title character to depraved indifference. From the mournful, wistful ballad that opens the first act, through the strobe light-flashing, bass-pulsing growls that predict Hedda’s ultimate downfall, the TUTA production team takes an interesting, if not always transparent approach, to filling in the character blanks left by Ibsen.”
“The play’s denouement still has the power to produce audible gasps in the 21st century. The audience, privy only to the superficial thoughts and actions of both Nora and Torval, becomes trained to take both spouses at face value. Director Lauren Shouse and her talented cast prove that a well-known conclusion can still offer genuine surprise, dropping subtle breadcrumbs throughout the play that suggest Nora’s ‘Aha!’ moment is subconscious work years in the making.
Torval — shallow, unimaginative and condescending — is a man who enjoys telling anyone who will listen about his hard work and moral rectitude. He is at his most interesting when interacting with longtime family friend and secret Nora acolyte, Dr. Rank (Terry Gallagher). Rank, physically aggrieved and cynical, is all-too-aware that life’s pleasures are ephemeral and meant to be enjoyed. While his bond with the hedonist-lite and beautiful Nora makes perfect sense, it’s hard to understand the character’s amusement with kill-joy Torval.
Yet Wallace allows his character to display endearing flashes of heroine worship toward his wife that hint at greater, if repressed, emotional depth. His clear, superficially besotted yearning must have weakened the knees of a young Nora, as undoubtedly as it does the audience. It is easy to love someone who routinely espouses one’s perfection.
But thanks to Danan’s commanding performance, we sense that Nora never fully trusted her husband’s placement of her on that pedestal. It’s evident that she sees herself as window dressing, albeit fluent in niceties. Danan infuses Nora’s Act I trifling dialogue with a sort of omniscient dread that makes a familiar journey feel novel. This character sees it all coming – even if she doesn’t know it until the moment she picks up her small bag and walks out the front door.”
“Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, was a prescient work ahead of its time. Nora’s abandonment of her husband Torvald and their family at the conclusion of Ibsen’s infamous script left a number of open questions that linger into 2019. Into this void steps playwright Lucas Hnath and the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre with the Chicago premiere ofA Doll’s House, Part 2. (The 2017 Broadway production received raves by critics. Its leading lady and Steppenwolf member, Laurie Metcalf, won a Tony Award for her performance.)
So whatever became of the Helmer children? Did Torval learn anything from Nora’s departure or did he simply remarry and move on with his life? And most urgently, what did Nora do to sustain herself after she fled? Was she happy, fulfilled, or did she come to regret her choices? Ibsen’s vibrant, bold work is heavy on intrigue, light on closure.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 presents a vision of the Hellmer family’s fourth act that dares to imagine Nora as a Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele for the 19th century, successful, wealthy and most of all, unrepentant. She may be writing under a pseudonym but Nora is definitely not hiding. She is signing contracts, taking lovers and purchasing property like the empowered, now-single woman she believes herself to be.”