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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Coronavirus: Play put on in Green Bay has some virtual virtues

Coronavirus

‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Alyssa Hannam, from left, Faith Klick, CJ O’Donnell and Chay Schmitt presented “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in an Internet performance of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

A play was put on Thursday night in Green Bay. Nobody attended in the traditional sense. People attended by the Internet.

What took place was a first for Northeastern Wisconsin: A play that was to be part of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance season that fell victim to the coronavirus COVID-19 received a plasma treatment of sorts. It survived.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” was put on live as a kind of readers theater as part of UWGB College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Virtual: An Online Showcase of Student Work.

There is a line in the play that is about something else, but it fantastically fits what transpired: “This was about more than it was about.”

The coronavirus has caused so much to be about more than what it once was about.

Whew. Brain-scrubbing stuff like that makes going to plays worthwhile.

The production was created from perhaps six locations (I’m guessing) – four for the visible actors, one for an unseen voice to set time, place and any physical action and a sixth for central control. This was the result of the social distancing mandate, of course.

The event was a combination of mechanics/logistics, material/story and where there’s a will there’s a way.

I’ll start with material/story because that is what audiences would have come to see April 24-25 and April 30-May 2 in University Theatre on campus.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is a psychological drama. It is about marriage – pros and cons.

“Marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives,” Nora says. She had left her husband and children 15 years ago. She has found success as a writer dissing marriage and has enjoyed an array of lovers. She writes under an assumed name.

Nora has shown up on the doorstep of Torvald, who she walked out on for his lack of… she has a laundry list.

The time of the play is when husbands ruled the roost, legally.

Nora has a problem because a judge who objects to her philosophy is threatening to expose her identity as a married woman… with no right to do things she’s doing. Unbeknown to Nora, Torvald didn’t divorce her when she left and instead said she was dead. Nora has come to Torvald to ask for a divorce. He says no.

Also in the story are a faithful nanny and a now grown daughter, each strong of character.

The dynamics between the four characters is akin to what happened in life a few weeks ago in Green Bay weather. Powerful winds relentlessly pushed the water of the bay of Green Bay into the continual flow of the Fox River abetted by the tributary East River, and there was no place for the water to go but to cause flooding. Everybody in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” gets flooded.

The play is interesting as a lens on a time in western society when marital legalities were different than today (in many cases). Also, the thumbs down, thumbs up on marriage finds fascinating and intense arguments both ways.

Mostly, playwright Lucas Hnath has created a clever blend of grist for thought. He has taken Henrik Ibsen’s original, revered “A Doll’s House” from 1879 and imagined lives in the household 15 years since.

Lucas Hnath takes the liberty of modernizing the language as some people today might express anger and disgust with s— and f—. He takes Henrik Ibsen’s creation and uses tools the originating author did not have or use. A crutch? Some might say.

The characters are sharply defined, with the student performances adding much.

As Nora, Faith Klick lets loose rapid-fire heat over and over. As Torvald, CJ O’Donnell creates a nice guy caught between a rock and the desperation of “I can’t win with you” he has with Nora. As Anna Marie, Alyssa Hannam portrays a kindly soul who stands behind Torvald and pushes back against Nora. As Emmy, Chay Schmitt delivers the goods when things get especially interesting as the daughter now grown enough to give her self-serving mother what for. Laura Riddle of the theater faculty served as the unseen voice.

At the core, the important thing happened Thursday night – the story was given life by actors who studied their characters and rehearsed nuances. What particularly came through in performances was Nora is a piece of work, and you want to have Emmy on your side.

As far as the mechanics/logistics, the important thing is the event did happen and key work of a production was salvaged. But it wasn’t easy.

UWGB play on computer. (Warren Gerds)

It was the first time I put Zoom to use, and I bungled my way to get aboard. But I got there. Likewise, the virtual production bungled its way to the start. But it got there six minutes past the appointed start time.

On the other hand, holy cow, the production had the five performers in five places, and they did appear on the same device(s) to present lines in what was billed as a play reading. The thing did happen.

The visible actors wore contemporary clothing. They performed in rooms with plain backdrops (sheets in two cases). They interacted mostly by voice. There was no character-to-character visual interplay.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” happens to work for this kind of presentation. There is no swashbuckling action. It’s all talk. The cast is small. The characters are in the same place. It’s all condensed and convenient.

While it’s all talk, the talk often gets gears turning in the head. Nora complains, “There are so many bad rules,” and she feels free to break them. But then, Torvald calls her on how some women encourage behaviors in men and then blame men for something they seemed to have wanted.

Amid such headiness are simpler thoughts on how life has changed for women. Anne Marie is impressed that Nora has her own money, something not allowed for married women of the time.

This and that:

+ All computers are not the same. Sound quality varied from location to location.

+ Missing from the production were valuable hints that come from a set and costuming. They would have told a time and the look of a place and something more about the personality of each character.

+ The production lasted an hour and 26 minutes. It was about more than an hour and 26 minutes was about a few short (long?) months ago.

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