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Theatre Cedar Rapids stages related shows in rotation
‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ using same design team, different directors and actors, in Grandon Studio
Nora Helmer didn’t live in Barbie’s DreamHouse. She was trapped in a 19th century house ruled by the husband who loved her, yet stifled her.
Until the day she couldn’t take it anymore.
Theatre Cedar Rapids is presenting a newer adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama, “A Doll’s House,” which premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Dec. 21, 1879, and continues to resonate today. It’s been translated multiple times from the original Norwegian language, and adapted for film, stage, dance and in the 2019 novel, “Searching for Nora: After the Doll's House.”
TCR also is staging playwright Lucas Hnath’s sequel, “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which picks up Nora’s story 15 years later. The play opened on Broadway on March 30, 2017, and picked up eight 2017 Tony nominations, with Laurie Metcalf winning for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.
The two dramas will be presented in repertory March 2 to 18, 2023, in TCR’s Grandon Studio space, using the same design team and their scenery, lighting, sound and costume styles, linked thematically, but the actors and directors are different for each production.
If you go
What: “A Doll’s House” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2”
Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: In repertory March 2 to 18, 2023
“A Doll’s House”: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; free talkback with Miriam Gilbert, directors, designers and cast members following the March 11 matinee
“A Doll’s House, Part”: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Tickets: $27 to $29 adults, $15 students and youths, per show; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/
Note: “Cabaret” will be running in the auditorium through March 5, so plan accordingly when heading downtown. And from past experience, sound hasn’t traveled from the main floor into the lower level Grandon Studio.
Carrie Pozdol is directing “A Doll’s House,” with Hannah Brewer as Nora and Jacob Kostiv as her husband, Torvald Helmer. Caroline Price is directing “Part 2,” with Jessica Link as Nora and Kehry Lane as Torvald.
The performances will alternate, with “A Doll’s House” on Thursdays, “Part 2” on Fridays, then both shows on Saturdays and Sundays, with “A Doll’s House” at 2:30 p.m. and “Part 2” at 7:30 p.m. The rotation is designed to give audience members the chance to see the first show before seeing the sequel.
“The idea to bring these two pieces together really stems from the fact that ‘A Doll's House’ is such a seminal work, and the contemporary response to it is so fascinating, but is made better with the context of the original (play),” said Angie Toomsen, TCR artistic director.
"I thought it would feel like a much more complete and rewarding experience to compare and contrast the two of them. …
“I was mostly inspired by ‘A Doll's House’ as a piece in putting together this rep experience,” she added. “In many ways, it is the beginning of modern drama. It was one of the first plays to depict a woman grabbing hold of her own fate.
“And of course, it was hugely controversial when it was first published. It was written at a time when people went to the theater expecting to see their values reinforced, not criticized. But there is something quite timeless about Nora's arc. It could be about any relationship or any aspect of identity.
“It's about how messy and difficult it can be to live authentically, to know and speak your truth, and stand at your power,” Toomsen said.
“It just feels so visceral and current in the ways that it sheds light on fairly universal anxieties around the fact that the truth really does have the potential to also blast away our foundations of comfort and security.”
While this newer adaptation of “A Doll’s House” — slimmed down from five acts into three — retains the traditional language from the era in which it was written, its themes represent a feminist point of view, said Lisa Kelly, the theater’s associate artistic director.
She is serving as the dramaturge for both shows, helping the production team with research, resources and context.
“I provide information to them on gender roles in the 1870s and the early laws in Norway around divorce and women's rights. … Having someone who can vet the sources and give you a narrative that is relatively easy to digest helps the production team work quickly into the meat of their own version of it.”
She also sits in on rehearsals, as her schedule allows, “just watching the storytelling and making sure the story makes sense … answering questions and seeing how things are going.”
Themes in “A Doll’s House,” Kelly said, “really explore what modern marriage is, and what it means to be equal in it, and how women, particularly in that time, but even today still sometimes feel caged when they're not a true partner.
“Even (with) a well-meaning nice guy, so to speak, if he's not actually thinking of his wife as a partner, what does that mean for a marriage? Also there’s themes of secrecy and hiding, and what does it mean to do something to save somebody else, even when the law might not see it that way.”
In “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” the liberated Nora is “older, wiser, savvier,” Toomsen said, “and she’s developed a wicked sense of humor. It's just fascinating and fun to check in with her 15 years later and for the people she left behind, to have their comeuppance. But ultimately, she’s still fighting the same battles.”
Toomsen has worked with Brewer in dramatic roles, seeing her be “powerful and accessible” as Hero, who fakes her own death in “Much Ado About Nothing.” But for audience members who have seen her more recently in “sweet or funny roles,” Toomsen said, “This is going to be so impressive.”
“She’s doing a great job with it,” Kelly noted. “When the play starts, her husband calls her ‘my little bird,’ ‘little squirrel,’ all this sort of imagery of woodland creatures that scurry and scamper and just seem happy all the time. Hannah absolutely has that quality — we’ve seen her do that a lot.
“But as he's doing that, you'll also see this is being said to an actual adult woman,” Kelly said, “and little flashes, even from the very beginning … and really hearing it, and realizing that it's hitting her in a way that he may or may not intend.”
Underneath all that, Nora has “had to make a lot of adult decisions and be confronted with a lot of adult issues early on,” Kelly added.
Through Nora’s growing discomfort in her marriage, the audience will see her wrestle with even more life-changing decisions when “everything is coming at her all at once,” Kelly said. “I think watching that through Hannah is really exciting.”
Link, who steps into Nora’s shoes in “Part 2” is well established in dramatic roles in the Corridor, including turns at Theatre Cedar Rapids and Riverside Theatre in Iowa City.
“We get one of the powerhouse actors in the area,” Toomsen said of Link.
With Nora and Torvald appearing in both shows, TCR wasn’t seeking to find look-alikes for the crossover roles.
“It's two different tasks,” Kelly said, “(the plays) do stand alone, so they're not trying to be exactly 15 years later from the other one. The directors wanted to just cast the people that are best for that part. It didn't matter if they matched up. … And yet even with that, the way in which they respond to each other and the connections are still there and are really strong, which I think is really interesting.
“You can see ‘A Doll's House’ in the people in ‘A Doll's House, Part 2’ in some ways,” Kelly said. “That’s just a happy coincidence in a lot of ways.”
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