Unicorn production glistens with stellar performances

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

Prepare for a 90-minute update of 1879s Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama “A Doll’s House” when the main character returns after a 15-year absence, only to find out much has changed because of her.

“A Doll’s House Part Two” sizzles with intense arguments among the four characters with all arguments and insults aimed at Nora, who returns because she wants something more from her abandoned husband. The exiting door slam of the original signals Nora’s abandonment of her husband, three children, and the nanny who raised her. And now, from nowhere, she reappears needing help.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

The original, a controversial drama of a woman walking away from an established home, family, and social position signals the beginning of the women’s movement. Thoughts that a woman can do more than raise a family and serve her husband go beyond the norm. Nora wanted more, set out to get it, but now returns.

The sequel written in 2017 brings an emancipated Nora back to her family, but what greets her far surpasses her expectations. Nora discovers her departure did not go as planned, so now only help from Torvald, her husband, saves her from humiliation and possibly prison.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

Brilliantly cast and directed by Darren Sextro, “A Doll’s House Part Two” stands alone as a complete entity. Characters and dialogue divulge enough information of the original piece that audiences know the back-story. And, while the original piece plays as a drama, “A Doll’s House Part Two” elicits laughter in each scene–even the most intense arguments and insults can shock the viewers.

Sit back and enjoy Manon Haliburton’s Nora. Haliburton plays Nora with reckless abandon to society norms, values, and convention. Dressed in period costume, she looks prim and proper, yet underneath boils a scheming, self-centered narcissistic character with one focus–herself. A stunning fast-talking opening scene sets the tone for a turbulent storm to continue to build to hurricane status. Haliburton, at her best, gives a stunning, comedic performance.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

Three characters pitted against Nora–Torvald, Anne-Marie, and Emmy–all deliver forceful foils. As the husband shamed by his wife’s departure, Logan Black delivers a fresh character that spars with Nora when confronted by her new request for his assistance. Black presents Torvald as a social elite with a hollow interior. Torvald suffers, yes, but changes not. Black’s performance is spectacular, especially when arguing with Nora. Their marital spats, though dramatic, are laced with humorous lines and delivery.

As the nanny left to raise the children just like she raised Nora,  Ann-Marie, portrayed byKathleen Warfel, presents a character not seen before on local stages. Her character cuts through Nora’s facade and brings some hearty laughs–especially when swearing. Warfel is magnificent in this featured role.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

The fourth character in the play is Emmy, now grown up, engaged to marry, possessing all the hope of being the stereotyped woman Nora refused to be. Their meeting illustrates that change comes slowly and that not everyone wants emancipation and a new life. Emmy comes to life with a strong portrayal by Marisa B. Tajeda, a UMKC MFA student making her Unicorn Theatre debut. In her scene with Haliburton, Tajeda gives notice to Kansas City to watch her expand her resume–quickly.

“A Doll’s House Part Two” allows director Darren Sextro to bring his genius again to the Unicorn Theatre. He directed the classic drama “A Doll’s House” this past summer for another theatre company and now directs the comic sequel. Even though bickering, scheming, and reality checks do not sound comedic, trust me, Sextro milked every line for perfect tone and inflection. His blocking of the feuds makes the audience laugh.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

A 2017 play written by Lucas Hnath exposes the flaws of the central character and will leave the audience with topics and situations to discuss after the show. Some will love it; some will not. Some audience members laughed loudly; some did not laugh. The difficult piece hits each person differently. “A Doll’s House Part Two” received eight Tony nominations during its Broadway run and claimed the award for both lead and featured actress. See the show and you will see why those parts deserve such honors.

(Editor’s note: videos can be found online to show some scenes to prove this is a comedy, even though it sounds like a drama.)

The technical crew that created this fabulous production are: Tanya Brown, stage manager’ Kelli Harrod, scenic designer; Emily Swenson, production designer; Nicole Jaja, lighting design; David Kiehl, sound design; Sarah M. Oliver, costume designer; Bill Christie, props designer; Hannah Taylor, dramaturg; TJ Burton, production assistant.

“A Doll’s House Part Two” continues at the

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

Unicorn Theatre through Nov. 10. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone, or via The Unicorn Theatre website.

Tags: “A Doll’s House Part Two” review, The Unicorn Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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