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Ibsen inspires two very different works at the Jungle and Guthrie theaters

'Noura' at the Guthrie

'Noura' at the Guthrie Dan Norman

In a program note for the Jungle Theater production of A Doll’s House, Part 2, director Joanie Schultz refers to the “door slam heard around the world.” That’s the sound of Nora walking out of her home at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House.

The portrayal of a woman choosing to leave her husband and children made the play instantly notorious, but A Doll’s House wouldn’t have remained a staple of the repertoire if a liberating twist were all it had going for it. Lucas Hnath’s play at the Jungle and Heather Raffo’s Noura at the Guthrie both take Ibsen’s original as a point of departure for probing explorations of marriage.

As its title suggests, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a straight-up sequel, though Hnath’s fresh take doesn’t pretend to look or feel like any follow-up Ibsen could have written.

It’s 15 years after the events of A Doll’s House, and Nora (Christina Baldwin) darkens that infamous door for the first time since she walked out. Her reasons for coming back involve complex legal issues that feel a little contrived—but then, so were the paperwork shenanigans that drove Ibsen’s original plot. Nora’s return forces a reckoning with her husband (Steven Epp), their daughter (Megan Burns), and her nanny (Angela Timberman).

This 2017 script has quickly become one of the most-produced plays in the country, and in Schultz’s compelling production it’s easy to see why. The premise provides a natural hook, and Hnath’s crucial insight is that Ibsen’s play ended just when the conversation was starting to get interesting. It’s frankly thrilling to watch some of Minnesota’s finest actors continue that conversation; the superb ensemble crackles with high-wire energy.

Noura borrows themes and plot elements from Ibsen but does something very different with them. In fact, try not to think about A Doll’s House while you’re watching Noura: Tracking the similarities and differences can distract from Raffo’s new characters and the urgent challenges they’re facing.

'A Doll's House: Part 2'

'A Doll's House: Part 2' Jungle Theater

Set in New York circa 2016, Noura finds a family of Iraqi immigrants celebrating Christmas. The title character (Gamze Ceylan) is eager to welcome a young Iraqi woman (Layan Elwazani) whose move to America she’s supporting, and Noura’s husband, Tareq (Fajer Kaisi), is looking forward to a quiet holiday with their son (a rotating role) and a longtime family friend (Kal Naga).

As in Ibsen, some long-suppressed truths are told. Here, though, those truths involve not just a troubled marriage but two troubled nations. All the adult characters are haunted by memories of Iraq, full of questions with no easy answers as they face the future. While the play’s rhythms are familiar, the substance of their lives is suffused with painful ambiguity. Under the direction of Taibi Magar, Ceylan draws a powerful portrait.

Both shows demonstrate how urgently relevant Ibsen’s ideas remain. One door closed, and many more have been opened.

A Doll’s House, Part 2
Jungle Theater
Through February 23

Noura
Guthrie Theater
Through February 16