Contemporary playwright Lucas Hnath’s comic “sequel” to the classic Ibsen drama “A Doll’s House”—Hnath calls it “A Doll’s House, Part 2”—picks up 15 years after the original, introducing a decidedly contemporary attitude to late 19th-century Norway. Springfield Contemporary Theatre opens a new production of the multiple Tony-nominated comedy opens tonight at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza. We heard from director Jack Laufer and actor Erika Nadir, who plays the lead role of Nora, on “Arts News.”
MSU alum Jack Laufer now splits his time between Los Angeles and Springfield. He explained that ‘Doll’s House Part 2’ “really isn’t a sequel—it’s kind of a sequel. I think (Hnath) sat around with a bunch of friends one evening thinking about what to write about, and they started (thinking), ‘What do you think happened to Nora?’ So everybody threw stuff out, and he thought that was a good idea to write about what happened to Nora 15 years after she left, when she came back.”
Ibsen’s original play, which debuted in 1879, caused a “scandal,” said Laufer. “Nora, a wife and mother of three in 1879 Norway, left her family to find herself, which was unheard of. People were booing; they picketed and protested. Actually, (reaction) was very divided—kind of like we are now! There were supporters of it, and there were people who couldn’t believe that he wrote this. (Ibsen) actually had to change the ending for it to play in Germany and France.”
Hnath’s “Part 2” picks up 15 years later, and as Ricky Ricardo might have said, “Nora, you got some ‘splaining to do!” Erika Nadir gave us her take on Nora’s character and motivations. “It’s not a spoiler alert to say that someone is threatening to sue her”—in fact, she’s being blackmailed by a judge—“because of the fiery rhetoric of her books and her speaking.” Nora is now a successful, albeit scandalous, writer. “It turns out that Torvald, her husband, never actually filed for divorce. So under the laws at that time, she’s promoting herself as an ‘unmarried woman,’ and it’s very scandalous.”
Jack Laufer added, “But, whereas ‘Doll’s House’ part one wasn’t a barrel of laughs, this one on the other hand is quite funny in many, many places.” “It’s interesting,” said Erika Nadir, “because the physicality is still of the 19th century, but the language, and the ideas, are very 21st century. I’m conjecturing, but I think that Lucas Hnath did this on purpose to unsettle the audience. And I think a lot of the humor comes from that. It’s the juxtaposition of these people dressed in 19th century costumes, saying very expletive-laced things.” Nora goes to her not-quite-ex-husband seeking whatever help he is willing to offer her… but he and the rest of the family have 15 years’ worth of grievances they want to air. “And what’s wonderful about this play,” said Jack Laufer, “is that everybody has a point of view; everybody’s point of view is valid. There are no heroes; there are no villains. We can all accept each other—or not.”
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” received for eight Tony nominations in 2017, including all four lead actors, Best Play, Best Director, and Best Costume Design. Laurie Metcalf won the Tony that year for her portrayal of Nora on Broadway. Jack Laufer said it has now become “the most produced play in the United States for two years now.” The fact that it has only four characters and one set helps, of course. “But it’s also an amazingly written play,” he added.
In addition to Erika Nadir as Nora, SCT’s cast for “A Doll’s House, Part 2” includes Sidney Baker, Julie Bloodworth, and George Cron. The play contains adult language and situations, but Laufer and Nadir emphasized that “it’s not offensive at all… I wouldn’t bring a five-year-old, but…!”
The production opens Friday December 6 and runs thru December 22 at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza, corner of Robberson and Pershing. Performances will be Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. Receptions follow the opening-weekend performances Friday and Saturday Dec. 6 and 7. The two Thursday performances, Dec.12 and 19, are "Pay What You Can" nights, with any tickets remaining at 6:30pm going for whatever you're willing and able to pay. There will also be talkback sessions with the cast and director following the Dec. 8 and 12 performances. “That’s always interesting—and I bet people will be talking back after this one,” joked Laufer. Erika Nadir said she was looking forward to the talkback sessions. “I’m very curious to see how people feel about the play.”
Erika Nadir is also involved in this month’s “SCT Sings” concert series celebrating the songwriting of Irving Berlin (Sunday and Monday Dec.15 and 16 at 7:30pm), along with Kim Crosby, Rick Dines, Kassie Carroll Downey and Robert Reed. Dr. Erika Nadir received her Doctoral degree in Italian Literature from UCLA in 2017, and currently serves as a professor at Pasadena City College. Through most of her career she has split her time between spoken-word theater, musical theater and as a lyric soprano with opera companies around the country. “I started as an actor when I was 17, I got my union card. And over the subsequent three years I discovered I could sing. So I did a lot of theater; then I did a lot of musical theater. I’ve actually done the original (Ibsen) ‘Doll’s House’ twice: I played Nora once, and Mrs. Linde, a character that is not transposed into the sequel. So I really do have a lot of experience with what we call ‘straight’ plays, regular non-musical plays. Then, when I discovered that I could sing, then I did 17 years of the opera.” Nadir is proud to have sung the title role in the first fully-staged American performance of Verdi’s first opera, “Alzira”, with Anthony Amato’s New York-based opera company in 1985.
Nadir told of seeing actor Kathleen Turner (who, like Jack Laufer, is an MSU Theatre and Dance alum) interviewed earlier this year during one of the Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” telecasts, when she played the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti’s comic opera “Daughter of the Regiment” at the Met. “It made me laugh,” said Nadir. “(The interviewer) said, ‘You’ve been a legitimate theater and film actor, and now you’re doing this. What do you think about it?’ And she said, “Well, I’ve spent 40 years trying NOT to do exactly what they’re asking me to do in this thing!’” Erika Nadir said she’s spent the past three weeks here in Springfield “unlearning everything I did in the opera, and retraining—with a lot of joy, I must say. We’ve had a really great time.”
Tickets for “A Doll’s House, Part 2” range from $22-$27. For tickets call Springfield Contemporary Theatre at 831-8001 or visit https://springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.