Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A Doll's House, Part 2
Stage Left Productions
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Tick, Tick... Boom!

Andy DeCarlo and
Amber Ryan

Photo by Rodney Rickard/Cody Dull
At the end of Henrik Ibsen's classic 19th century drama A Doll's House, Nora Helmer slams the front door of her house shut as she walks out on her husband and three children with her future uncertain. At the beginning of Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, written more than 100 years after Ibsen's play, it's fifteen years later when Nora comes back through the door and we finally found out what happened to her.

With a talented cast and sure-footed direction, Stage Left Productions presents the Phoenix premiere of Hnath's 2017 play in a captivating production that is both funny and dramatic. However, while it is well written and the aspects of the play are incredibly interesting, the fact that the sequel has characters and situations that are relatively the same as in the original drama may make you question what the point is of Hnath's sequel.

The plot begins with Nora coming back to the home she left fifteen years before. She's become a successful novelist, writing under a pseudonym, of books that preach her anti-marriage views. She's even used the exact factual circumstances she experienced of her unhappy life and her decision to leave her family to flesh out the fictional plot of one of her books, which has inspired other women to question their happiness and some to also leave their families.

We also quickly learn that Nora hasn't come back to reconcile with her husband Torvald but instead to seek his help. It turns out he never divorced her after she left, even though he said he would, and since she's been signing contracts, having romances, and conducting business as if she were a single woman, the fact that she is still married means those contracts are void and she could face legal action and even ruin. Turns out nothing has changed in the 15 years that have passed as far as the improvement of rights of married women as they are still basically second-class citizens with their husbands in charge, both financially and legally.

Will Torvald help his estranged wife, who he's let people believe died instead of knowing the truth that she left him, or will Nora need to resort to forgery or use family and friends to conspire on her behalf, as she did in the plot of Ibsen's play?

You don't really need to know what happened in the original play to fully understand what preceded the action of part two, as Hnath does a fairly good job in providing enough information to fill in the gaps. However, you should know that A Doll's House centers on Nora forging a document without Torvald's knowledge in order to help him. Hnath manages to create many similarities between his work and Ibsen's play and also weaves together many of the same plot devices—forgery, deception, potential ruin—that Ibsen employed.

Hnath has wisely reduced the cast size to only four important roles, with a run time of just 90 minutes. This helps focus the action on the intimate conversations, power struggles and confrontations Nora has with her husband, her daughter, and the family maid. Also, Hnath does a good job of portraying the similarities between Nora and her now grown daughter, even though Nora wasn't in her life at all, and adds in the impact caring for a family has on a servant who puts their employer's priorities over those of their own family's. Hnath also uses modern language and profanity to form a bridge between the present and the past to, I'm assuming, show that women still have many problems today with social, financial, and legal limitations and inequities, just like the ones depicted in the time period of the play, as they live and work in what is still a traditionally "man's world."

Cody Dull's direction is crisp and clear with solid performances from his cast. As Nora, Amber Ryan does a very good job of portraying the wide range of emotions and character traits that Nora encounters, from frustration to happiness, anger to acceptance. Ryan is funny, captivating, and full of life as Nora. Andy DeCarlo is, appropriately, gloomy, sad and depressed as Torvald, a man who seems he still hasn't accepted that his wife left him 15 years ago. The conversations between the two characters are staged by Dull almost as a chess match (the gorgeous set design by Dull and Leroy Timblin uses large black and white squares on the floor), with each character moving around the stage and trading barbs. Ryan and DeCarlo are fairly adept at bringing a heightened sense of realism and emotion to these moments.

As Anne Marie, the insufferable and long-suffering family servant, Debra Lyman is a firecracker who beautifully flips in a second between confidante and co-conspirator to nemesis. Anne Marie also gets some of the best comical lines and Lyman's delivery is top notch. As Nora and Torvald's 18-year-old daughter Emmy, Haiden Ruffino delivers a performance that is confident, charming, intelligent and smart. The scenes Ryan has with both of these women are well acted and directed.

While not much has changed as far as how women were treated and how the characters behave in the fifteen years that passed between the time periods of the two plays, Hnath sill manages to create some complex situations. He also echoes the same message that Ibsen did, but with an even stronger voice: that women shouldn't be defined by how society limits them or how their marriage narrowly defines them. Though A Doll's House, Part 2 may not become a classic like Ibsen's drama, and it's a lot of talk for a minimal payoff, that's a message well worth repeating.

Stage Left Productions safety measures include socially distanced seating, masks required by all audience members and theatre staff, and a heightened cleaning process before, during and after each performance.

A Doll's House, Part 2 runs through May 30, 2021, at Stage Left Productions located at 11340 West Bell Road, Suite 105, Surprise AZ. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 623-285-6321.

Director/Costume Designer: Cody Dull
Set Design: Cody Dull & Leroy Timblin
Production Assistant: Stephanie Ruffino
Costume construction: Jeni Golec and Christi Gray

Nora: Amber Ryan
Torvald: Andy DeCarlo
Anne Marie: Debra Lyman
Emmy: Haiden Ruffino