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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Marriage under microscope: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Theatre Studies

Daphne Johnson, from left, Kylie Marsden, Robin Wylie and Spencer Catalano pose on the set for the St. Norbert College Theatre Studies production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” (St. Norbert College)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Multiple things are happening in St. Norbert College Theatre Studies’ production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

At the core, the play by Lucas Hnath dissects marriage. That’s done through a story that’s a psychological drama.

A physical complication is COVID-19. The cast performs live – wearing masks – in Webb Theatre on campus with no paying audience. Included are the set, costumes and lighting as if in a real deal. Performances will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, April 30 and May 1.

The original “A Doll’s House” is from 1879. Playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Nora Helmer is so stifled by male-dominant marriage that she walks out on her husband and children.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is from 2017. Playwright Lucas Hnath’s Nora has come back 15 years later. She needs something: A divorce. Lucas Hnath creates an elaborate web of “what ifs” that on the surface make for intriguing theatrical fare.

The production is student-driven. Faculty has stepped aside for advisory-only roles. Student Will Fisher and three other seniors hold the reins and help the players take control of their characters in the meaty play. Strength and consistency fill the production, except for some on/off sound Thursday night for one player.

The setup: Nora (Kylie Marsden) has found success as a writer dissing marriage. She has enjoyed an array of lovers. She writes under an assumed name. Now Nora has a problem because a judge – his wife walked out on him because of a novel by Nora – wants to expose her identity as a married woman who in 1894 Norway has no right to do things she’s doing.

Unknown to Nora, Torvald Helmer (Spencer Catalano) didn’t divorce her when she left and instead said Nora was dead. When Nora now asks Torvald for a divorce, he says no.

In the web are a faithful nanny (Robin Wylie) and a grown daughter (Daphne Johnson), each a strong and willful of character.

The dynamics between the four characters are win/no-win in situation after situation.

Quick take on characters: Nora lets loose rapid-fire heat over and over. Torvald is a nice guy caught between a rock and self-generated, can’t-win desperation: “I don’t know what to do around you,” he says to Nora, “I don’t know how to behave.” The maid, Anna Marie, is a mix of nagging and kindly as she stands behind Torvald and pushes back against the renegade Nora. Emmy, the daughter, shifts from cautious on meeting her mother – “It’s so very nice to meet you” – to calculating and giving her self-serving mother what for.

The play is interesting as a lens on a time in western society when marital legalities in many cases were different than today.

Nora’s assessment: “I (the husband) own you. That’s what marriage says to me.”

The thumbs down/thumbs up on marriage finds fascinating and intense arguments both ways.

Mostly, Lucas Hnath has created a clever blend of grist for thought. He also fudges a lot. He takes the liberty of modernizing the language as some people today might express anger and disgust with f…, s… and p…, taking Henik Ibsen’s creation and using tools the originating author did not have or use. Along with that crutch, Lucas Hnath messes with a time frame in the play as characters often quote the maid’s take on situations when such timing is not there.

This and that: Performances transpire from a few camera angles. Costuming creates an aura of the time. The spareness of set pieces give a feeling of the relationship between Nora and Torvald – something not quite there.

The production overall radiates maturity in theme and presentation.

***

Creative: Playwright – Lucas Hnath; director – Will Fisher*; stage manager – KaCie Ley; scenic designer/properties master – Micaela Rozmarenoski*; costumes, hair and make-up designer – Jordan Schuman*; lighting designer – Maddy Kuehl; sound designer – Garret Fritz; producer – Katy Verheyden*; assistant director – Marissa Helchen; assistant costumes, hair, make-up designer – Madelyn Glosny; technical director and scene shop supervisor – Corey Pinchart; assistant technical director – Brittney Fritz; operations director of visual and performing arts – Paul Mashl; divisional dean of visual and performing arts – Stephen Rupsch; director of theater studies – April Beiswenger. *Denotes this play is this student’s THEA 450 Senior Capstone.

Cast

Anna Marie – Robin Wylie

Nora – Kylie Marsden

Torvald – Spencer Catalano

Emmy – Daphne Johnson

Running time: One hour, 15 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 30 and May 1

Access: Tickets are free (donations welcome), but audiences are required to register. Info: snc.edu/tickets/

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