Tony nominee Amy Herzog flips the script on 'A Doll’s House'
The Pulitzer finalist adapted Ibsen's classic for a Jessica Chastain-led Broadway revival. In a rare ruling, she was nominated for Best Play Revival as a writer.
Playwright Amy Herzog’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Jamie Lloyd, marked her Broadway debut. In a dramatic twist, the show also put her in the running for a Tony Award for Best Play Revival.
That prize typically only goes to producers; a playwright is only eligible for Best Play upon a show's Broadway debut. But since Herzog did more than simply translate Ibsen's work — she adapted it, reworking some of the language with a modern edge — it counts as a new, and therefore newly eligible, piece of writing.
Herzog, whose plays include Mary Jane, Belleville, and the Pulitzer-nominated 4000 Miles, marveled at her unique situation. “I didn’t understand how unusual and special it was,” she said. “But apparently the producing team petitioned ahead of time for me to be named as a nominee.”
“I was really honored and surprised,” she added. “Being a translator is usually a pretty silent, thankless job, and they've been just so good to me, everyone, including Jamie and Jessica.”
Between her Tony nomination – the production’s five other nods include Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Featured Actor (Arian Moayed) – and the success of the show at the Hudson Theatre (NYTG's critic gave it a five-star review), Herzog feels heard and seen. She’s the one who brought “these words into the present day” while maintaining the time-honored story of 19th-century housewife Nora Helmer (Chastain), who seeks independence from her controlling husband (Moayed).
In advance of the Tony Awards on June 11, Herzog talked with New York Theatre Guide about choosing the words and “chasing a holy grail” of capturing Ibsen’s original intention while also giving herself leeway to find what felt immediate to her.
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What drew you to Ibsen’s 1879 play?
It’s a great play. It’s extraordinary to spend this much time with it. Ibsen has had a really big influence on my work. My play Belleville is actually kind of a riff on A Doll’s House. It felt like a very natural pairing to me.
Ibsen wrote a lot of plays, and some of them are in a much kind of bigger, more civic mode. But this one, even though it has this reputation as this really political play, is rooted in the intimacy between these different characters. And that’s what really excited me about returning to it.
Your version runs around 2 hours, compared to a typical 3 hours. Was that intentional?
I was conscious of wanting to lose some time off the original just because we aren’t as patient as we used to be. When I sat and looked at the play, there were a lot of redundancies. In a lovely way, that kind of imitates life and the way people repeat themselves. But I just don’t think it registers the same way to contemporary audiences.
Your script hews close to the original translation in some places and leaps to 2023 in others – like when Torvald calls Nora a “stupid bitch.”
That was a really difficult decision. In the original he says something like “You miserable, wretched –” and cuts himself off. “Stupid bitch” is not a [far] cry from things that men call women these days. It just felt like we should just give the audience the experience of the real nastiness.
There’s been a lot of buzz about Nora being seated for nearly the whole play. What stands out to you from this staging?
I love watching Jessica and Arian together. And the scene where Dr. Rank (Michael Patrick Thornton) confesses his love to her plays really differently in our production. There’s so much shared affection and humor and dimension. I don’t think I invented anything there. But I do think layers of dust accumulated over the scene. There is a real connection between two people.
Are you looking forward to going to the Tonys?
Yeah. I’m very relieved and grateful to my awesome union, the WGA [Writer's Guild of America], for standing up for writers in the first place, and for supporting the theatre in the second place.
Then, this winter, you'll be premiering another Ibsen adaptation on Broadway: An Enemy of the People starring Jeremy Strong.
There’s a lot I don’t know yet. It is still [the] early days for us. As I was saying, it’s Ibsen in a civic mode. It’s freakishly timely. it’s so different from A Doll’s House. I find it very intimidating that he could do both. There are things that don’t get an enormous amount of airtime in the original play that may get more room – his relationship with his wife and his daughter. I'm very happy to be spending a little time on these great plays.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Top image credit: Amy Herzog. (Photo by Sam Gold)
In-article image credit: Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain in A Doll's House. (Photo courtesy of production)
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