At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 drama “A Doll’s House,” Nora Helmer walks out on a stifling marriage, famously slamming the door behind her.
In “A Doll’s House Part 2,” contemporary American playwright Lucas Hnath imagines what would happen if, 15 years later, Nora were to come back. The result, in the Tampa Repertory Theatre production at Stageworks through Nov. 20, is a totally enthralling, thrillingly staged battle of hearts and minds.
The play opens in silence. All we see is an austere 19th-century drawing room, designed impeccably by Steven K. Mitchell: a few chairs, a desk, parquet floors, and the door.
Then there’s a knock. It’s Nora, of course.
A symphony of rage and quiet reflection, it’s absolutely riveting — and, for Sargent and Callender, an acting tour de force.
Emilia Sargent vividly conveys the arc of Nora’s journey. At first — flitting about the stage, toying with the nanny, making her guess what she does for a living — she seems still to be playing the “little featherhead,” as her husband, Torvald, liked to call her. The nanny, Anne Marie (a sublime Karla Hartley), is suspicious.
“I feel like I’m being set up,” she says in a line that’s typical of the script’s colloquial (and often very funny) vernacular.
Then Nora reveals her mission. She has discovered that Torvald has never signed their divorce papers, meaning that she is still officially a married woman. As such, everything she has been doing since leaving him — writing books, earning money, taking lovers — was illegal.
Torvald (E. Peter Callender, in a powerful performance, by turns forceful and poignant) refuses to sign. And when Nora asks Anne Marie to assist in changing his mind, it begins to dawn on her that however well-founded her reasons for leaving, she’s been oblivious to the consequences, especially for Anne Marie.
“After all the problems I’ve already fixed for you I have to fix this too?” demands Anne Marie, “Fuck you, Nora. Fuck you.” In Hartley’s delivery, that “Fuck you” is at once heartfelt and hilarious.
Nora’s now-adult daughter Emmy is not quite an ally, either. Played with bracing self-assurance by Bria Matthews, Emmy contemplates her mother with the cool regard of a scientist studying a specimen. She not only counters Nora’s arguments against marriage, she comes up with an alternative solution to her dilemma — one that makes Nora fear for Emmy’s future as well as her own.
There are five scenes in the play, which runs a swift 90 minutes without intermission. The final scene, as it must, comes down to Nora and Thorvald. A symphony of rage and quiet reflection, it’s absolutely riveting — and, for Sargent and Callender, an acting tour de force.
I expected “A Doll’s House Part 2” to be stellar. After all, three of the actors as well as director Stephanie Gularte are present or former leaders of their own theater companies, and the designers include, in addition to Mitchell, heavyweights Joseph P. Oshry (lighting), Trish Donnelly (costumes), Matt Cowley (sound) and Igor Santos (original score).
But this team did more than live up to expectations — they created something unforgettable. Don’t miss it.