TAMPA — The notion of marriage as a social construct is at the heart of “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” presented by Tampa Repertory Theatre at Stageworks Theatre.
The play written by Lucas Hnath is an imagined sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Written in 1879, the play saw Nora Helmer make the controversial decision to divorce her husband Torvald and leave their children. It dramatically ends with Nora symbolically closing the door to the family’s home.
Hnath’s play imagines Nora’s return to the home 15 years later. But she’s not coming back to reconcile the marriage, she’s back to ask Torvald for a favor.
Stephanie Gularte makes her return to directing with “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Over a year ago, she was contacted about the project by Emilia Sargent, Tampa Rep’s producing artistic director and CEO, who stars as Nora. Sargent had already cast L. Peter Callender as Torvald.
At the time, Gularte was transitioning out of her role as American Stage’s producing artistic director and said she wasn’t ready to commit to a theater project. But Sargent followed up around March, with Karla Hartley, Stageworks Theatre’s producing artistic director, coming on board.
“The project was right and the people were just people who I admire so much,” Gularte said in a phone interview prior to the show’s opening. “It just really was the right kind of ingredients to entice me to jump back in the rehearsal room.”
The show proves they were indeed the right kind of ingredients.
Gularte said working on complex characters with smart, thoughtful actors put her back into a creative focus that she hadn’t been in for some time.
As Nora, Sargent is captivating, steadfast in her new role as a writer who views marriage as cruel to women. The ideas she puts forth are meaty and Sargent’s sharp delivery lets us chew on them.
The character of Torvald is surprisingly nuanced. Gularte said she liked that the play presents a male perspective on how complicated marriage and love can be due to society’s constructs of what men and women want. Callender hits every beat of these conflicting emotions with a stellar performance that invites a great deal of empathy.
Hartley plays Anne Marie, Nora’s former nanny who was left to raise the Helmers’ three children. She delivers much of the play’s welcome comic relief with precision timing, while also delivering on the character’s truth of being disappointed with Nora.
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As Nora’s daughter Emmy, Bria Matthews is a brilliant addition to the cast, smoothly and effectively countering Sargent with surprising ideas about mothers and children.
Gularte said while the play’s ideas about women and motherhood can still strike a nerve with today’s audiences, she invites them to consider their own reactions. You might surprise yourself.
If you go
“A Doll’s House, Part Two.” Runs through Nov. 20. $22-$55. In an effort to make live theater available to a wide range of audiences, Tampa Rep offers “choose your price” ticketing, which offers a limited number of $11 Theatre Lover tickets for each performance. Stageworks Theatre. 1120 E Kennedy Blvd. 813-556-8737. tamparep.org