Director Robin Witt places 34 audience seats—two groups of 12, two groups of five—on the stage surrounding the playing area for her keenly observed production of Lucas Hnath's heady 2017 play. In essence, two juries and two galleries observe the proceedings: Nora, the proto-feminist heroine of Ibsen's 1879 scandalous classic, returns to the household she left 15 years ago when she abandoned her husband, children, and all material comfort in the name of self-actualization, and Hnath spends 90 intellectually hypercharged minutes asking us to weigh everyone's culpability.
"Everyone" here is Torvald, Nora's banker husband, who for years treated her like a brainless bauble; Anne Marie, the nanny who raised Nora's three children after Nora vanished; and Emmy, Nora's headstrong grown daughter, who remembers nothing of her mother. There's a skeletal potboiler plot involving suspect legal maneuverings and emotional blackmail (all very Ibsen), but it's there mostly to prop up a series of two-person encounters—all of which involve Nora—through which Hnath considers myriad layers of accountability among a quartet of people, each of whose every decision seems to put the other three in great jeopardy. Along the way the playwright shows just how difficult it can be to make any definitive pronouncement about marriage, gender roles, or family responsibility.
It often feels like a rigorous theatrical exercise, despite the astonishing efforts of Witt's cast to fill the brainy dialogue with human dimension. That effort eventually pays off, and by the time Nora's done, she—and we—have been through the wringer. v