We see two very different versions of modern women in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at B Street Theatre and “Reborning” at Big Idea Theatre this month. In the former, Nora, the heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” returns after 15 years to finish what she started when she walked out the door on her marriage and kids. In the latter, Kelly crafts lifelike recreations of dead babies mostly for grieving mothers seeking solace.
For “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” Lucas Hnath took on the task of bringing Nora home for the sequel to the classic Norwegian play, which ushered in the modern era of theater. His main character, played to perfection by Melinda Parrett in this B Street production, remains a strong woman struggling against tradition through self-exploration.
Having achieved success in life as a single woman (an author), she returns to the home she left for one final piece of business — she needs an official divorce in order to fully, legally establish herself. Husband Torvald (Brian Dykstra) is as cold and detached as he ever was — and Dykstra is totally in sync in air and manner with his character. Anne Marie (the wonderful Stephanie McVay), the nanny who remained with the family to raise the children Nora abandoned and stayed on after that, is the first to encounter the returning Nora — and as she always had, tries to find a means of reconciliation. Only daughter Emmy (Tara Sissom, coming into her own here) realizes there is no possibility of a family reunion, only an acceptable resolution.
Playwright Hnath has done a generally good job of continuing Nora’s story, but a couple of elements in the production belie his attempt at authenticity. The original play was set in 1879, so when Nora returns 15 years later, it would be 1894. In “Part 2,” the characters of Nora and Anne Marie use tissues from a pop-up box on a table at the back of the set. Pop-up tissues were not introduced until 1928. In addition, Nora sports and drinks from a shiny silver water bottle — an accoutrement of the 21st century.
You might argue that these touches are designed to underscore the advanced nature of Nora’s character, but she was plenty advanced as she was. Such devices seem to make Nora not a woman ahead of her time, but a woman from another time. That’s a disservice to her nature.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” continues at B Street Theatre in the Sofia, 2700 Capitol Ave., through April 7. Show times are 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $28-$47.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to Bstreettheatre.org.
Plays and characters don’t get much more modern than “Reborning” and its trio of characters. Daizy (Anthony Person) and Kelly (Taylor Fleer) are former art school students who try to make a living off their talents. He makes adult sex toys (one of which he displays prominently in the play); she makes incredibly lifelike baby dolls for adults. Most of her customers are like Emily (Laura Kaya), who lost a child (albeit years ago) and wants a “reborn” replica to love and for solace during a time of grieving.
Apparently “reborn” dolls are a real thing, and playwright Zayd Dohrn takes off on this trend to create a really disturbing story about love, loss and grief — and how dangerous it all can be when one’s psychological state is so fragile, as is Kelly’s. Providing a service for others and prove to be a disservice to oneself.
“Reborning” is funny and fascinating and has a lot to say about the effects of childhood trauma on one who survives it, but also on how our failure to successfully grieve and learn to accept loss can scar us forever. This is a tough, adult drama (and includes some pungent smoking), but it’s worth it for those who want to be challenged and provoked by theater.
“Reborning” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, through April 6, at Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. Tickets are $12 on “Thrifty Thursday” and $16-$18 on Friday and Saturday.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 960-3036 or go to BigIdeaTheatre.org.