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Theater Review: A Doll’s House in Cedar Rapids

“A Doll’s House”

Theater Cedar Rapids, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 16, $27

“A Doll’s House, Part 2”

Theater Cedar Rapids, 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 17, $27

“A Doll’s House”

Theater Cedar Rapids, 2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 18, $27

“A Doll’s House, Part 2”

Theater Cedar Rapids, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 18, $27

An image from the 2023 performance of A Doll’s House at Cedar Rapids Theater – Photo by Benjamin Stuben Farrar, Contributed

I entered the Grandon Theater in Theater Cedar Rapids to see it A dollhouse by Henrik Ibsen (written 1879) and as I walked past the veiled Victorian frames and black walls I was transported to another time and place. Knowing that I would see it A Doll’s House, Part 2by Lucas Hnath (written 2017) the next night was an added treat.

As the house lights went down and the first play began, I was amazed by the work of set designer Lucie Greene and technical director Jason “Blue” Herbert. Her vision of the titular house and her use of lights and veils impressed me throughout both shows.

scenes are in A dollhouse where a performer is obscured by one of the veils that adorn the set while another person is infertile. In those scenes, I asked myself, “Who is lying? What is behind each of them?” They were two people living in the same room and having different experiences. At the end of the show I wanted to pull the veils down because I wanted to reveal the secrets they hid.

Tommy Truelsen’s sound design also drew me into the world of the piece. Specifically, the tick-tick-tick of a clock that gets louder in stressful moments, making time itself seem like a character in the play.

We are introduced to Nora in the opening moments of the first track. She is Torvald’s wife, his “little songbird” or “silly squirrel”. A stunning profile portrait of a doll kept in a toy house. However, she is not as stupid as everyone thinks.

Stunning as Nora, Hannah Brewer embodies her childish charm with a flirtatious preciousness. When she dances Nora’s tarantella – meticulously choreographed by Megan Robinson – Brewer shines. I got goosebumps when she let her hair down. Brewer’s Nora danced like her life depended on it.

Torvald – the workaholic, admonishing husband, played subtly by Jacob Kostiv – had a measure of control in every scene he entered. The carefree confidence of a man who doesn’t know his wife’s experience. Sometimes I wondered if Kostiv had a connection to his scene partners; I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision to hold his Torvald haughty over his wife. Kostiv’s calm face can quickly and violently turn into anger. There were moments when I was afraid of him, especially towards the end of the play.

Noel VanDenBosch wears many hats in this production (including a real hat that was beautiful). Her work is incredible, both offstage as an assistant director and a member of the carpentry and welding crew, and onstage as Kristine Linde, Nora’s childhood friend.

Kristine took my breath away when she arrived in her grey-blue Liberty of London dress, perfectly pressed and pleated. Her contrast to Nora’s costumes helped me understand the differences in women’s roles during this period. VanDenBosch’s Kristine is littered with a hurt past. She is always stoic and friendly, even through Nora’s rude remarks, which betray an forgetfulness of Kristine’s feelings. VanDenBosch lives the character’s decisions in front of the audience.

Where VanDenBosch’s Kristine was veiled, Brian Smith’s Nils Krogstad is ebullient. Smith plays the lawyer dashingly and believably, even as Nils reveals secrets of past disagreements. Scenes with Smith and VanDenBosch together were delightful. As the intimacy between the two characters grew, I could see traces of the caring Carrie Pozdol offered.

As an intimacy director and director of the staging, Pozdol’s direction is always visible. During the kisses, I could count the hits, see the approval, and feel the time and support given to those moments.

dr Philip Schramp’s Rank is a bright guy with a voice seemingly registered for permanent dismissal; not quite “inhuman”, but demeaning. In the second act he is serious, wonderfully cheeky and tragic.

With Chatelaine at her waist, Melissa Kaska as Anne Marie is the true keeper of the secrets of the house, who knows and sees all. As her story is revealed, Kaska expresses a range of emotions in a speech. Her eyes alone through the octagonal glasses speak volumes. Kaska broke my heart with her tenderness and connection to Brewer’s Nora. When Anne’s feelings change, it’s just as deeply felt.

It is worth mentioning that the costumes in both productions are impeccable. From the shoes to the hair, period perfected thanks to costume designer Melonie Stoll and her team and wig designer Sarah Fried. Her efforts help convey the changes each character goes through over time, especially Nora.

Nora’s opening look was gorgeous, with a Norwegian-inspired embroidered and braided waistband mixed with a velvet skirt and satin bodice, the look of a worldly, wealthy woman of the 1870s. Her “Capri Girl” costume in Act II was simple and effective. Her green, fur-lined coat at the end conveyed a newfound strength.

“Don’t interrupt me,” Nora finally says at the end A dollhouse. She closes the door behind her, drops the veils and her life goes on without interruption.

It should be noted that at moments of her appearance behind a veil, Brewer’s face anticipates that of future Nora A Doll’s House, Part 2. I can see similar hand decisions and face raids. Nora flirts when she wants something, and so does the sequel, set 15 years later. Manipulation is her dance.

An image from the 2023 performance of A Doll’s House, Part 2 at the Theater Cedar Rapids. – Photo by Benjamin Stuben Farrar, contributed

A dollhouse ends with so many questions left up in the air I was anxious to see Part 2 The next day. When I entered the theater this time, I immediately noticed the bareness of the house. The veils are gone and the players are sitting in ornate chairs in front of the house. You can hear everything and see what is happening. You listen but react in moderation, an eye widening here, a little head movement there.

The openness of the set also raises questions about the state of affairs in this sequel. Whatever happened, the comfort and life in the house are gone.

In this sequel, Nora returns, a new woman (literally) met with echoes of her past life. Now played by Jessica Link, she has transformed from a caged bird into a phoenix dripping with confidence. Her smile greets Marty Norton’s Anne Marie with an air of grandeur. Her plum satin suit with black rosette detail stands out against the plain house. Links Nora is still goofy, but she’s blossomed into a woman who isn’t afraid to take up space.

Marty Norton Stands Firm as Anne Marie in Part 2. She’s had to deal with the mess Nora left behind and she’s grown hard in the process, unwilling to accept Nora’s old shit. Norton delivers the playwright’s modern words with a salty and sassy punch, enhanced by how attentively Norton listens to her co-stars.

When Torvald from Kehry Anson Lane finally recognizes his ex-wife, his world collapses. You can see Lane’s face shift from confusion to fear to anger and despair with just a few nuanced looks. This Torvald is broken, the years have not been easy. Sometimes in scenes with Link, I think I’m going to see couples therapy. I see the guidance of director Caroline Price and assistant director Hannah Green keeping these scenes grounded and dynamic.

When Nora meets her daughter Emmy, played exquisitely by Angelique Williams, she has found her mate. Emmy is cool, smart and not afraid to correct the mother she never knew. She’s gruff and brash – very much like her mother, but somehow more composed. The scenes between her and Link are outstanding and filled with constant urgency.

These plays were written more than a century apart, but they support each other in helping audiences understand the world better. The transparency of Part 2 is welcomed to the veiled world of mysteries and lies in its prehistory. I recommend seeing the shows in pairs. I think I would be confused if I saw that Part 2 without the original and vice versa. See A dollhouse And A Doll’s House, Part 2I felt like the sheet was pulled from the dusty dollhouse in the attic, revealing a new silhouette of lives lived without regrets.


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