Here’s a timesaver for you. Stop reading this, just for a few minutes, go directly to the phone or whatever ticket site you prefer and get tickets to this play. A Doll’s House, Part 2 is the last of the Broadway offerings to open in time for this year’s Tony Awards and the old saw about saving the best for last was never more true. A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a stupendous creation in nearly every way.
In 1879, in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Nora (Laurie Metcalf) walked out on her husband Torvald (Chris Cooper) and three children because to stay would have been a form of suicide. Other women stayed, yes, of course. They still do. Nora, however, was ready to risk dying from trying instead of dying from suffocation. It is now 15 years later and there is a rapping and most ungentle tapping at the chamber door. Nora has returned.
Not come home mind you. No, no, no. She is not to be kept down on this farm. The one maid still left, Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell, who New York audience now greet with a round of applause when she enters), has been let in on Nora’s visit. She has agreed to let her into the house while Torvald is at his office. It is Anne Marie to whom Nora relates her tales and trials. And there are many.
Nora is not here for a cuppa. She is now a well known writer, under a pseudonym of course because this is still the 19th century and women have no rights. Her first work was the story of her own marriage and how it failed because she was invisible in her own home. The book has become a stunning success, encouraging women of all sorts to leave their own husbands. One such abandoned bloke has made it his business to discover Nora’s identity and is now poised to expose her. The wrinkle here is that a single woman is free to conduct business, sign contracts, etc., but a married woman is not. Married? But her husband filed divorce papers, did he not?
Well, no, he did not. Ooooops.
Nora has returned, not because she misses her family in any way, but because she needs that divorce decree. Torvald can do it with a ship of his pen. She cannot file for the divorce without proving Torvald unfit in some distasteful way. For Nora to pursue the divorce, she would have to ruin Torvald and the family.
“Do it,” says Torvald. No more Mr. Nice Guy. If Nora wants her freedom she will have to crawl over Heaven and earth and her “family” to get it. No more swanning out the door, if you please.
Let the games begin.
Lucas Hnath understands that for a story to hurtle forward at the pace he prescribes, there must be trouble on every page. He leads the characters through a veritable land mine field over the 90 or so minutes that whisk by. While Nora is on the hunt for the divorce decree, Hnath gives each character a shimmering inner light that radiates their story. Marie had to give up her own family to raise Nora’s children. Emmy (a mature and refined Condola Rashad) is choosing marriage because she longs to replace her empty childhood with belonging to a man. Torvald might as well have been shot in the head, so shocked was he by his wife’s epiphany and immediate departure. When Nora closed that door she left behind a vacuum that was never righted.
As the stories roll out, Nora soaks them in but refuses to wave a white flag. Metcalf is beyond brilliant as she waves Nora’s banner high. With each thrust she parries, literally and figuratively. With each refusal she regroups for another assault. She is not unkind or unjust. She is not cold or calculated. She is a woman with a brain and an unending supply of courage. She knows what she needs and she will go to the mat for it. Even when the duel drops her to the floor, she does not relent.
It is the combination of empathy and bravado, clarity and uncertainty, resentment and hope that Hnath has given his characters that lets the play sneak in and grab you where you live. There is no protection from this story or these characters. Before you can put up a defense, they are there putting down roots in your head and your heart. Sam Gold’s direction pulls these extraordinary cast together into an ensemble that summons the Spirits of the Small Moments to the table to create a banquet. This is a feast all around. A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a reminder of why theatre – or art itself – is, at its best, a life altering experience. It reminds us that Walt Whitman wasn’t kidding when he wrote:
You are here—that life exists and identity,
… the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
This is the sort of play that makes us remember we are alive.
(Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)
What the popular press says...
"A door that was once slammed so hard that the noise could be heard around the world is now being knocked upon, most insistently. In the opening moments of Lucas Hnath’s smart, funny and utterly engrossing new play, which opened Thursday night at the Golden Theater, audience members laugh at the sound of the demanding tattoo being beaten upon that door. That’s because they have probably guessed who’s on the other side.”"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A door closes — well, slams — and a window opens to a sequel. Lucas Hnath’s compact and provocative comedy “A Doll’s House, Part 2” picks up after Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic ended."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"If Ibsen’s play is about suffocation, Hnath’s is about airing things out. Modern in its language, mordant in its humor and suspenseful in its plotting—Nora, now a scandalous writer, needs Torvald’s help to avoid being blackmailed by a judge—the play judiciously balances conflicting ideas about freedom, love and responsibility. And Sam Gold’s exemplary direction keeps you hanging on each turn of argument and twist of knife. Everything about the production works. It’s a slam dunk."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Sam Gold directs in his signature spare style. Set in what is essentially a bare space, there is little action in this tale but much insight, and Gold shrewdly allows the words to take center stage, amplified by some spectacular acting."
Roma Torre for NY1
"One of the most famous exits in modern drama prompts an entrance that bristles with tension, provocation and unexpected subversive humor in Lucas Hnath's terrific new play, A Doll's House, Part 2."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"So, did Godot ever show up? Were George and Martha able to save their marriage? And whatever happened to Nora after she slammed the door? In “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” Lucas Hnath pulls off the dramatic parlor trick of bringing back Ibsen’s iconic heroine — in the incomparable person of Laurie Metcalf — to answer that question 15 years later. Despite the modern idiom that Hnath slings around with gleeful humor, it’s amazing how women’s lives haven’t changed."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...