This production was scheduled May 5-21, 2023.

So . . . it’s 15 years after Nora Helmer left her family at the conclusion of Ibsen’s groundbreaking 1879 play A Doll’s House, and now she’s back (having become a successful if controversial writer) in Lucas Hnath’s 2017 sequel, A Doll’s House, Part 2.

In SLO Repertory Theatre’s elegant but spare production, running through May 21 at its downtown theatre, director Karin Hendricks-Bolen manages to find both humor and poignancy in a script that leans heavily on discourse and rationalization to explore just why Nora has returned.

That exploration takes the form of encounters between Nora (a strong, confident Suzy Newman) and three others in the household she earlier abandoned: the household’s nanny (a precise, discerning Katy Dore), Nora’s husband (Josh Machamer, impeccable and articulate), and Nora’s daughter (Madison Shaheen, subtle but definitive in her portrayal).

There’s Newman mischievously asking Dore to guess what she’s been up to since she left. There’s Machamer using his limber frame as much as his voice to express his anguish with the line, “Does it have to be this hard?” There’s a classic mother-daughter contest with Shaheen as obstinate as Newman (although in a much more prim and proper way).

Suzy Newman as Nora and Madison Shaheen as Emmy.

These four actors take us through a brisk 90 minutes (with no intermission) of scenes from a marriage and a family long gone, but there are bits of playfulness and courage as well as heartache and missed understandings that audiences will easily and readily recognize. The language is also decidedly modern, with turns of phrases you might not expect to come from women sporting chic chignons and leg-o-mutton sleeves.

Speaking of which, the period costumes by Barbara Harvey-Abbott are handsome and quite detailed.

The one-set scenic design by Jason Bolen is equally handsome, while evoking quite a sense of loss—there are traces of pictures missing on the wallpaper of the house, and the furniture, while stylish, is sparse.

Altogether, SLO REP is presenting a class act as the penultimate presentation of its 2022-23 season.

:: Charlotte Alexander