Let’s take it as a given that readers of Daily Review are familiar with the plot of Ibsen’s proto-Me-too masterwork, A Doll’s House. But in case you’ve forgotten, or have in some way repressed the memory, it ends with quasi-child bride Nora leaving husband Torvald. And the kids.
She powers right through the front door. Which she slams. Loudly.
While waiting for-what-happens-next in contemporary American playwright Lucas Hnath’s sequel, it’s The Door that dominates the space.
It’s pretty big.
You realise what a lot of heft Nora must have had under all that little-girl charm to even get the darn thing open.
There’s a section of scrim above it on which is projected – in a bit of an opening-shots-of-Cabaret tribute – The Audience; reflected, albeit at a beat behind reality – back at itself.
This is a play about US.
The play propounds a possible (if unlikely) post-Doll’s House scenario for Nora, and opens up a whole new dilemma for her to face (with three ‘options’ posited).
Someone hits the a button and the preset DOOR rolls backwards, revealing a Scandi-blue room, with prison pallour, gold stripe overtones. The furniture is IKEA minimalist: two sturdy (painted) wooden chairs and a couple of consoles – preconstructed, thank god. It’s beyond bare, it’s clinical; prescriptive even, as per the playwright’s request for a space that ‘ought to feel a touch like a forum‘.
Projected above, Nora (quelle surprise) walks towards us and peers through the keyhole…..
Turns out nothing undermines a dramatic exit like a re-entry.
Having slammed the front door so loudly it was ‘heard around the world’ – she’s back; turning up, uninvited, after 15 (or 140, depending on your perspective) years. Years when we’d thought her dead. Years misspent, lost, wandering (or worse!), in some wood, some Norwegian wood, somewhere in Norway.
Turning up, uninvited and Knocking.
Knocking on that same bloody door we’ve just had fixed.
And Damn, she’s looking good.
‘Cos she’s Marta Dusseldorp, a strapping figure of willowy womanhood (though there’s an inexplicable switch from impenetrable Nordic blonde to fiery fjordian redhead). All bow down before her because a door is nothing, even The Door. And besides, Deidre Rubenstein (in muted family-retainer grey/blue/black, white apron and sensible shoes) is waiting to assist.
Welcome home Nora!
What follows in Sarah Goodes’ production for Melbourne Theatre Company (set and costume Tracy Grant Lord), while initially diverting thanks in large part to superb performances from Dusseldorp and Rubenstein, never really moves beyond the didactic.
Plot points aren’t so much revealed as announced. As are the capitalised names of the characters. Which are projected, presumably again as per the author’s instructions, at various junctures before gladiatorial bouts, as it were. I suppose it does defuse any confusion one may feel as to who’s who in this bewildering array of four characters.
The play propounds a possible (if unlikely) post-Doll’s House scenario for Nora and opens up a whole new dilemma for her to face (with three ‘options’ posited). And it yields up some moderately interesting information about 19th century Scandinavian divorce laws. It’s at its best whenever the humour cuts through the more indigestible diatribes. Rubenstein’s first expletive ‘fuck!’ is applause-worthy in itself.
But, ultimately, Hnath’s play – like the original – is a masculine view (though the academic Hnath has run his version past the feminist sisterhood). While it’s an exemplary piece of fan fiction, it is a bit light-on for such potentially weighty subject matter. Nora’s 15 years come across as boxes ticked rather than lived experience. And in any case, in this production, such expository moments are glossed over.
The play premiered in the US to rave reviews.
As Anne Marie, Deidre Rubenstein comes close to stealing the show. She’s not in the latter scenes of the play, of a certain to prevent us demanding A Doll’s House Part 3: The Housekeeper’s Story.
Greg Stone is a gently bewildered Torvald, his characterisation sound, but there’s nowhere much to go with the role as written. Marta Dusseldorp is warm, witty and elegantly articulate as Nora.
As Nora and Torvald’s youngest child and only daughter, Emmy – the missing Von Trapp (dressed as Edelweiss-by-Carl-Larsson) -Zoe Terakes, clearly a fine actress, is so determinedly perky she misses some of the more disturbing nuances of female complicity in patriarchal subjugation.
‘We need to talk’ says Torvald, echoing Nora’s own words of 15 years previously, but while that was a moment of electric intensity in theatre history, for me this latter version elicits a desperate, internal ‘noooooo’.
Besides, he’s waving something blue in his hand. For a moment I think it’s a ‘talking stick’ of the kind favoured by some therapists in counselling sessions.
Don’t talk!! Send her a letter. Type her a text.
And so, after much debate and no small amount of pontification, she leaves.
More quietly this time.
It’s The Other-Side-of-The-Door.
A panoramic, slightly disconcerting view of mountains and one determined bird.
It really is The Sound of Music.
A lark perhaps??
Is she going to join the sisters at Nonnberg Abbey?
Does she even have a guitar?
With a view like that, there’s really no excuse for the lack of windows.
Should Torvald choose to sell the place, a retrofit with German engineered triple glazed bi-folds would raise the asking price: real estate in this part of Norway is almost impossible to find.
But if you’ve ever really wondered what happened after Nora slammed the front door, this is the play for you.
Until September 15
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