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A Look At Betsy Aidem, Director of "A Doll's House, Part 2" at George Street Playhouse

By Charles Paolino

originally published: 11/19/2018

A Look At Betsy Aidem, Director of "A Doll's House, Part 2" at George Street PlayhouseBetsy Aidem has seen the stage from both sides now.

An award-winning actress, Aidem is taking her first professional turn as a director, guiding the George Street Playhouse production of Lucas Hnath’s comedy A Doll’s House, Part 2.

The play, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards in 2017 and scored the best-actress award for Laurie Metcalf, will be on stage from November 27 to December 23 at George Street’s temporary quarters, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick.

“Part 2” in the title refers to the fact that Hnath has written what Aidem describes as a “clever reprisal” of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which first appeared in Copenhagen in 1879.

Ibsen’s play was controversial at the time, because it critically exposed the subordinate and circumscribed position to which women were consigned in late 19th-century Europe—when, as Aidem describes it, “the options for women were governess, wife, or prostitute.”

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In that play, inspired by actual events, Nora Helmer, without the knowledge of her husband, Torvald, has fraudulently obtained a loan to pay for medical care that saved his life. Now she is threatened with exposure, and when she desperately turns to him for help, she finds him more concerned about scandal than he is grateful for what she did on his behalf.

Fed up with Torvald’s patronizing and stifling attitude, Nora turns her back on him and their children and strikes out on her own—a revolutionary step for a woman of that time.

Nora slams the door as she leaves in a gesture that George Bernard Shaw described as “the end of a chapter in human history” and Aidem calls “the birth of modern drama.”

Hnath’s play, which is being presented at 27 theaters across the country this season, begins with a knock on that same door 15 years later.

Enter Nora—subjugated wife turned feminist writer—who has come to ask Torvald for what she thinks is a simple favor: she wants him to finally divorce her, something she thought he had done a long time before.

Nora’s mission draws her into spirited dialogues with Ann Marie (Ann McDonough), the nanny she left behind along with the Helmer children; Emmy (Lily Santiago), one of those children—now an adult; and Torvald himself (Andrew Garman).

In what Aidem describes as a “character-driven dilemma,” each of these personalities reveals a personal agenda that casts a different light on Nora’s situation.

Despite the complex premises of Ibsen’s play, Aidem endorses what the publicity says: It is not necessary to have seen Ibsen in order to appreciate Hnath, whose work stands on its own. 

By her account, Aidem was encouraged by David Saint, artistic director at George Street, to take on “Part 2.” Saint has directed her in three productions at the playhouse. 

“I directed a new play at NYU about three years ago,” said Aidem, who is an adjunct instructor at the New York university. “I had a wonderful time doing it, and I said, ‘I like this!’ But, you know, then you get busy with your career ….” 

Still, she said, her work in the academic sphere laid important groundwork for her professional debut as a director: “Teaching was how I got my first sense of how to help shape a scene, help the actors hunt down a story and bring their truth to it. It segued in a natural way to direction.”

She used the word ‘help’ twice in that sentence, and the word does reflect her view of the relationship between director and actors, a relationship defined not by dictating but by helping.

Theater is a collaborative art form, Aidem said, in which the director has to think about every component of the production.

With respect to the cast, “You have a sense of what you want the overall story to be,” she said, “and you want to invite the actors to tell that story with as much of their own interpretation as possible.’’

She described an exchange in which she told Garman that she didn’t think he was applying her input to a certain passage in the play, and he said that was because he didn’t agree with her take.

“We each thought the writer was making a different point,” Aidem explained. “I said, ‘I’m willing to yield to you.’ Some things I’ll fight for, because I have a strong opinion, but I like when they come in with ideas. I admire every one of them, and I don’t want to take away their impulses.’’ 

Aidem has no trouble seeing things from an actor’s point of view.

She has won an Obie and a Drama Desk Award and has a resume that spans the stage, television, and motion pictures.

So, as she directs this production, does she sometimes visualize herself in the role of Nora?

“I’ve tried really hard to not do that,’’ she said. “Kellie is a formidable actress with instincts of her own that I think are really brilliant. She’s really bright. If I got into ‘How would I play the part?’ it would be so destructive.

“And this is a more exciting opportunity—to shape the whole story with all of the actors rather than staying in my own lane.”

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit the George Street Playhouse website at, or call the box office at 732-246-7717.

New Feathers Productions To Present "Naked Call" by Ken Kaissar
(NEW HOPE, PA) -- New Feathers Productions will present the featured, full-length, new works reading of Naked Call by award-winning, playwright Ken Kaissar on Thursday, December 20th.  Naked Call will be professionally produced and presented for one night only and is the featured reading as the successful season concludes at the James A. Michener Art Museum.  Tickets include a museum pass with access to the latest exhibitions and the ever-popular, pre-show wine gathering with the creatives at 6:15pm, Naked Call starts promptly at 7:00pm and runs approximately 75 minutes.   
Women's Theater Company Presents "Carol Channeling, Caroling"
(PARSIPPANY, NJ) -- The Women’s Theater Company, a professional theater company in Parsippany, NJ, presents Carol Channeling, Caroling starring Maggie Graham with Music Direction by Seth Weinstein on December 15 and 16 Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. Carol Channeling returns to the Parsippany Playhouse with her band of merry impersonations for 2 performances only.
State Theatre and Crossroads Theatre Company Present "Common Ground"
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey and the Tony Award®-winning Crossroads Theatre Company present Common Ground – A Holiday Musical Celebration of Community on Sunday, December 16 at 3:00pm. Featuring star Shanice Williams from NBC's broadcast of The Wiz Live. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students, and $5 for children.
Playhouse 22 Presents "A Christmas Carol"
(EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ) --- Playhouse 22 will be presenting its annual production of A Christmas Carol from December 7 - 16.  Directed and adapted by Tony Adase, A Christmas Carol at Playhouse 22 is based on the Charles Dickens' piece by the same name.  It is the story of a miserable miser who learns to keep Christmas in his heart with the help of several ghostly visitations.  A show for the whole family, the Playhouse 22 production is celebrating its 23rd annual year at the theater.  
The Ritz Theatre Co. Presents "Scrooge, The Musical"
(HADDON TOWNSHIP, NJ) -- The Ritz Theatre Co. will present its annual holiday classic Scrooge, The Musical from December 7th through December 23rd.  This show is a tradition for families across our region, and is fun for all ages. Led by Producing Artistic Director Bruce A. Curless, Bruce plays the title character of Ebenezer Scrooge. This will be the twenty-third year and final year that Bruce dons the wool cap and is chased through visions of his life by three famous ghosts!

PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
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REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
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Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.
REVIEW: "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" at Paper Mill Playhouse
One man’s ambition is comfortable yet to another it is anathema.  This is the simplest way to convey the central theme of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – now playing at Papermill Playhouse.  The show is a rich, effervescent, beautiful, fun, musical that is well worth booking tickets for.  It enthralled my phone addicted 13 year-old and earned a shout out on Instagram - high praise in and of itself.
REVIEW: "A Doll's House, Part 2" at George Street Playhouse
For well over a century the world has been wondering what ever happened to Nora Helmer from Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House.  Nora was a woman during the 19th century in male dominated Norway when women could not sign contracts without their husband’s permission.  She challenged this law, essentially committing forgery.  And, even though she committed a crime for the purpose of saving her husband’s life, her actions wound up destroying her marriage when someone tried to blackmail her. 

Event calendar
Tuesday, Dec 11, 2018


ALAN SCARDAPANE @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:00pm


Elf, The Musical @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 2:00pm

The Night Before Christmas Carol @ The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCCArts), Branchburg - 1:00pm and 7:00pm

A Christmas Carol @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm


The Shoemaker & the Christmas Elves @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 10:30am


Sam Darnold Meet & Greet @ iPlay America, Freehold - 5:00pm

View all events


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