Grace Gonglewski (left) as Nora and Joilet F. Harris as Anne Marie are seen in Arden Theatre Company’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which runs though Dec. 5. Both actresses are from Northwest Philadelphia. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

by Clark Groome

After 15 years there’s urgent pounding and doorbell ringing at the Helmer house. It is through that door that Nora Helmer so memorable left at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s incisive and, at the time of its 1879 premiere, controversial “A Doll’s House.”

When Nora famously slammed that door, she did so because she was tired and frustrated at being treated as a bauble, the “doll” of the title rather than as a fully-developed human being. When she leaves Torvald, he has all the power and all the prospects. She has none. Fifteen years later when she returns, the roles have, personally if not legally, reversed.

During her time away, as we learn in Lucas Hnath’s impressive and often funny “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” she has become a successful individual who has developed a writing career that has earned her a pile of money. Her independence has included some relationships in which she has had an equal part.

But there’s a problem. Although Torvald and Nora had agreed to divorce, he never filed the papers. The result in the patriarchal Norway of the time was that all she had done since leaving was likely illegal. So back to that original house she goes, hoping to get the legal issues taken care of so she can get back to what has become a very fulfilling life.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which is playing at the Arden Theatre through Dec. 9, deals not only with Nora (the convincing Grace Gonglewski) and her needs and feelings but also with some of those she had left behind.

Her nanny and wet nurse Anne Marie (the indispensable Joilet Harris, a Germantown resident) was left to raise the three children she left behind. She has remained loyal to Nora after a fashion but is still angry at what she did to her and to her daughter and two sons.

Torvald (Steven Rishard) has never gotten over Nora’s departure. In his mind he really loved her, although in the 1870s Norway that meant in some ways like loving any valuable beautiful possession. Daughter Emmy (the spot-on Grace Tarves) seems torn between her anger at being abandoned and her desire to be the kind of woman and mother her own mother was not.

Each of the four has his/her focus in the 90-minute intermission-less drama. Hnath’s play has been written with a clear echo of the original while utilizing language, including surprising inclusion of the “S” and “F” words, that is clearly of our time rather than of Ibsen’s and his more reserved style.

While all four of the actors are first-rate, director Tracy Brigden’s production – appropriately abetted by Jorge Cousineau (scenic, sound and video design), Olivera Gajic (costume design) and Brian Sidney Bembridge (lighting design) – suffers a bit from being staged in the three-quarter round. Far too often some in the audience are denied the full power of an actor’s expressiveness because his or her back is to that part of house. That said, having all sit so close does bring us much more intimately into the story.

This time when Nora goes out that front door at the end of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which she does just as she did in the original, it’s clear that the power has changed, and it is she who has a better chance of being fulfilled as a human being while Torvald is left bleeding, both physically and emotionally.

For tickets call 215-922-1122 or visit ardentheatre.org

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