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By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

Coyote StageWorks, of Palm Springs, presents playwright Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House Part 2” as the debut production in their new permanent home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, formerly known as the Camelot Theatres.  It was an inspired choice that sets the performing bar very high for the Equity theatre company, now entering its 11th successful season here in the Coachella Valley.

There’s no doubt about it.  The Coachella Valley and Hi-Desert theatre companies are growing exponentially in experience, talent, artistry, and quality of performances. As I mentioned in a recent review, one no longer really needs to travel to Broadway or NYC to see and/or enjoy a quality theatrical experience.  We’re increasingly employing professional Equity actors, gifted and aspiring non-pro actors, along with creative designers and other technical disciplines that enrich our vibrant Valley productions.                 

Prolific playwright Lucas Hnath, who hit the jack pot back 2016 with his award-winning play “The Christians,” is now leading the vanguard of talented young playwrights emerging from our playwright pipelines with his equally provocative, new play, “A Doll’s House. Part 2”.   

There is very little “theatre-wise” that escapes the sharp eye of Coyote StageWorks founding artistic director Chuck Yates.  He immediately secured the performing rights to this hot, in-demand, comedy play with a twist, as his number one choice to celebrate Coyote’s move to its new permanent home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

As the New York City marketing PR firms for “A Doll’s House, Part 2” wisely stated; patrons do not have to be familiar with the great Norwegian playwright/director Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 drama production of “A Doll’s House” to understand and appreciate the brilliance of Mr. Hnath’s bold new ‘sequel.’

Using Nora’s slamming of her front door behind her as she leaves in Ibsen’s version, signals that she is abandoning her old life, home, husband and children in pursuit of new life as a liberated, independent woman. This is a very risky decision to take and not popular with 19th-century society.  However, Mr. Hnath’s Nora character now bolsters the support for America’s current and ongoing women’s movement protests that has taken a mere 140 years to arrive in earnest.

In Hnath’s 21st century- influenced play, the story begins with Nora returning through the same front door she walked out of fifteen years ago.  What is she up to, and why now?   No spoiler alerts from me. This production deserves your full attention in person.  Let the Games Begin….

There’s now more of a modern dark comedy undertones to Nora and Torvald’s 19th-century marriage story.  Hnath still keeps his version set in the 19th century but infuses the dialogue with the flavor of the 21st century and its societal norms along with the language and vernacular of the street; but none the less, this production resonates in spades.  (A note: there are adult themes and language in use on stage, so leave grandma and the kiddies at home).

Hnath’s feminist Nora is a flat-out sensational Robin Mc Alpine who delivers a star turn performance with incredible timing; Torvald, Nora’s abandoned husband played by Don Amendolia renders a finely judged performance as a wounded and scarred husband; Ann Marie the loyal, and earthy family retainer, servant and nanny is terrifically played by Barbara Greun, who delivers a little gem of a comedy performance.

 Emmy, Nora’s teenage daughter, astonishingly played by Lizzie Schmelling, is a stunning ‘scene-stealer’ among scene stealers. Her striking blue eyes are penetrating and mesmerizing in her highly nuanced, powerful, yet poignant, confrontational scenes between a mother and daughter who haven’t seen each other in fifteen years that I’ve seen on a stage in a long time. Ms. McAlpine and Ms. Schmelling deliver some of the most memorable moments of many memorable moments in this funny, sharp, poignant, comedy production.

The cast is one of strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen in the desert this season. Dare I say it… this production is flawless.  However, as fabulous as this cast is, and they are indeed fabulous, they still require the experience and talent of director Chuck Yates, who smartly and skillfully directs this impressive production.  Prepare to have your socks blown off.

The technical credits of the creative team led by director Yates includes an absolutely gorgeous set design by Thomas L. Valach, a lighting design by Jason Smith, and spot-on period costumes designed by Frank Cazares; complete the creative team.  Alan Highe stage manages the production.   

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is produced by David Youse and Chuck Yates and performs at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, running Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM thru February 16, 2020. 

The play is performed without an intermission and runs about 90 minutes.

It’s a must-see production.  Call the box office for ticket information and reservations at 760-318-0024 or go online to www.coyotestageworks.org.

Remember… A great nation deserves great Art.  Support the Arts!


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