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Palo Alto Players production offers an update to Ibsen's 'feminist moment'

'A Doll's House, Part 2' opens this weekend

The final line of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" is a stage direction:

"The sound of a door shutting is heard from below."

That informs Torvald Helmer that his wife Nora -- his "little skylark, his doll" -- has left him, and their three children.

The character is shocked, audiences at its premiere were shocked, and at least one prominent actress refused to perform in the play when it got to Germany because, she said, she would never leave her own children.

But performances sold out in 1879 Copenhagen for what was an "awesome feminist moment," as actress Gabriella Grier put it, in a recent phone interview.

"It was banned in Europe sometimes. That a woman would leave her family was too crazy and provocative at the time," she said.

Grier is playing Nora in "A Doll's House, Part 2," by Lucas Hnath, which begins with Nora coming back through that slammed door, many years later. Michael Champlin plays her estranged spouse.

"The good news is you don't have to have any familiarity with 'Part 1,'" said Jeffrey Lo, who is directing 'Part 2' for the Palo Alto Players, opening on Jan. 18 at the Lucie Stern Theatre. "What little you need to know is at the beginning of 'Part 2.' 'Part 1' is essentially about a well-to-do woman, a mother, a wife, who is unhappy in her marriage, and leaves at the end of the play. Back then, that left everyone up in arms that a woman would leave her husband and children just because she was unhappy," he said. "Our play is set 15 years after 'Part 1' and has Nora coming back through the door she slammed. ... What she needs, I don't want to share."

Lo, who is a very good director at only 31 years old, loves to let his audience enjoy a play's "reveals" -- those "Aha!" moments. So, we expect something good from this play as well. In his day job, Lo is casting director at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

"I really wanted to work on this play," said Grier, who grew up in Palo Alto before going to Barnard College and the Juilliard School, then returned to the Peninsula, where her day job is in the advancement office at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough.

"It's just a fascinating exploration of reality and the fantasies about how we wish our lives could go ... we want Nora to find her own voice. Really, her family doesn't see her as a real person. But, what is the cost? She left her children, she left her husband...

"What's interesting is you get to see Herr Torvald's perspective. ... In his world, he was doing all the right things. For her to just leave, you see how devastating that was to him."

Lo is well pleased with Grier's work as Nora.

"She's just a real strong, classically trained actor," Lo said. "She auditioned with me, and was very amazing. In rehearsal, we found her mind and mine work the same. We are kindred spirits, finding big meanings in small words."

Freelance writer John Orr can be emailed at johnorr@regardingarts.com.

What: "A Doll's House, Part 2."

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

When: Jan. 18-Feb. 2. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.

Cost: $27--$54.

Info: PA Players.

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