A Doll’s House, Part 2: Compartmentalized Gender and Society Hilariously
The last time we saw Nora, she walked out the door, leaving behind her shocked husband and unknowing children. In Ibsen’s 1879 masterwork play, Nora’s action is seen as a brave and monumental decision for a woman to make, especially back in the day when it was written. It’s a powerful raising of the fist for feminism and a woman’s place in the world. Nora didn’t want to be Torvald’s pretty little doll. She didn’t want to be played with by a man who looks down from a high. In this clever sequel to that ground-breaking Ibsen classic, it all starts with some impatient knocking. When that door is finally opened, there is a strong and well dressed Laurie Metcalf (Tony nominated for the not-so-good Misery, and the amazing The Other Place) standing there. Nora has come home again. She stands there erect and proud, but nervous and in need, and we know we are in for a wild ride courtesy of this modern young playwright.
Lucas Hnath, an exciting new playwright (The Christians, Red Speedo) getting his Broadway debut in one star-studded way, writes A Doll’s House, Part 2 with a very modern slant on their language while following the story line plots with precision. This is a ‘what if’ story line, that examines the inequalities and social arrangements of the past with a nod to responsibility, love, attachment, and a diatribe on marriage. It’s a powerful four person production, directed by the big named Broadway director, Sam Gold (The Glass Menagerie, Fun Home) that doesn’t hold back on the punches. You can see that a lot of star wattage has jumped on board this new play. Without a doubt, they all saw that this was a winner, and they score big on many different levels, while also being funny and thoroughly engaging.
Jane Houdyshell (The Humans, Follies) playing Aunt Marie, the woman who stepped in when Nora left to help Torvald with the home and the children, answers the knock at the door and ushers the former lady of the house into the bare living room. It’s a bit shocking to Nora and to us that the room is so empty and void of all frills (set design: Miriam Buether; lighting: Jennifer Tipton; sound: Leon Rothenberg). Marie was expecting Nora, and finds herself in quite the conflicted situation. She has a lot to say to Nora, and the flood gates open wide for the both of them. It’s a master class in arguing. They make an impressive talented duo, playing off each other in a well-written dance about motherhood and marriage.
Talk finally revolves around to Torvald, portrayed by Chris Cooper (Academy Award winner for Adaptation), who is slightly miscast as the ex-husband that hasn’t really managed to let go or move on. It’s a complex part, playing in the arena of anger and frustration between a man and woman with tremendous history and heavy baggage. Cooper doesn’t manage to rise to the same level as these other two women who command the stage at every moment with a hilarious ease and a powerful stance. He lacks a certain fortitude that makes his character less formidable, and no match for Metcalf.
Metcalf is as incredible as can be. Her body language and stance is fascinating, being modern and old fashioned all at the same time, impeccably dressed by costume designer, David Zinn (Present Laughter, The Humans) giving her a command that radiates beyond the stitching. She delivers every line with a strength and solidness of the woman she has finally become. She’s funny and sure footed, while also struggling with insecurity and shame, especially when the conversation circles around to her children. Condola Rashad (MTC’s Ruined, Stick Fly) as the daughter, Emmy, one of three that Nora abandoned so many years ago, solidly goes head to head with Metcalf’s Nora, playing and engaging in sublimely unique and fascinating rhythms that constantly surprise. It’s steadfast and true, while challenging the woman that is her mother, but not her caregiver.
Split up into compartmentalized blocks of time, A Doll’s House, Part 2 explores so much more than just gender inequalities and norms of that time, it resonates far and wide about love and marriage; attachment and parenting; responsibilities to family and to self. It’s a fun piece of playful writing, not too deep but it does carry a healthy dose of profoundness. Hnath is a welcome addition to this year’s theatrical season, and hopefully (and it’s already begun) the award nominations will flood in for this play, its director, and the cast. Cooper sadly will most likely be left out, but for Metcalf and Houdyshell, they are both off to the races.