Sofia Jean Gomez stars in "A Doll's House, Part 2." Photograph by Jim Carmody
From the instant that Sofia Jean Gomez appears, transported as if from the canvas of some magnificent painting to the stage, the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 bursts into life. Commanding and charismatic, Gomez is perfect as Nora Helmer, the heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 masterpiece who exited that play empowered and who returns twice as empowered in Lucas Hnath’s 2017 sequel. Even with a more than capable supporting cast of Rene Thornton Jr. (as Nora’s spurned husband, Torvald), Linda Libby (as the Helmers’ faithful nanny, Anne Marie), and Danny Brown (as grown daughter Emmy), Gomez proves wholly magnetic in one of 2018’s most exquisite performances.
As for the play itself, A Doll’s House, Part 2 suggests that 15 years after Nora walked out on her husband and young children, slamming the door with righteous emphasis at the end of Ibsen’s original, she returns, not out of contrition or affection but for a much more pragmatic reason. Enjoying a career as a popular writer who’s crusading as an unencumbered woman against the institution of marriage, she has discovered that Torvald never officially divorced her. Until he does so, she faces being forced to repudiate her convictions or risk prosecution. (Remember: this play, as with its inspiration, is set in pre-20th-century Norway when and where women’s rights were few.) In Hnath’s play, Nora must convince Torvald to grant her the divorce she needs without compromising the very principles of identity and self-determination that caused her to storm out in the first place. Her efforts seek to involve Anne Marie and then (reluctantly) Emmy, setting up the one-act production as a series of confrontations between Nora and the other three. How Gomez’s Nora responds to the retaliations, entreaties and bargaining is the attraction of this show, directed by Sam Woodhouse.
There’s little doubt what Nora will eventually do, but that does not diminish the tension of her interactions or the strength of Gomez’s restrained yet intense interpretation. Also worthy of acknowledgement for their contributions to this production are scenic designer Sean Fanning and costume designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 12/15/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat