The Dollhouse Part 2
by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Laurie Metcalf, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad and Chris Cooper. Photographer: BRIGITTE LACOMBE
What happened after Nora slammed the door? We get one possibility in A Doll's House Part 2, Lucas Hnath's vibrant sequel to Henrik Ibsen's landmark 1879 play.
It opens 15 years after Nora had been stifled enough in her marriage and walked out the door. A four-hander, Hnath's conceit presents the aftermath with challenging questions and crisp dialogue but at the end, there are no concrete answers.
The stylized play has dialogue that is totally millennial style. When Nora, played with zest and authority by Laurie Metcalf, arrives at the door, her power suit by David Zinn is 19th century, but her talk sounds a lot like 2017. She has gained her longed-for independence, had experiences and earned an identity of her own but she paid dearly for it and now she again faces situations regarding that independence and the institution of marriage. This time her problems are legal, and when she meets with her husband, Torvald (Chuck Cooper), it is because she needs him to divorce her.
Directed by Sam Gold on one set, the four characters take their turns to incisively define their feelings toward Nora. Miriam Buether designed a spare space that is brightly lighted by Jennifer Tipton so that Nora quickly notices that all her things were discarded, leaving obvious gaps. Except for some straight chairs and a table, there are no furnishings, no piano, no paintings, no desks -- all gone. There is a box of tissues and a lot of confrontation as each character faces up to Nora and then leaves, with Nora losing one more link to her old life. She had expected her visit to move more briskly and more efficiently than this.
Despite Nora's legal problems, her resolve has strengthened over the years and Metcalf's intense performance illustrates this. Her wide gesturing and broad poses suggests how confined she had felt in her marriage. She is now confident that in another 15 years, all women will have rights, be totally independent and can choose the life they want. She declares this to a theater audience who realizes that even in the 21st century the battle for women's rights continues, and may well have to pick up speed in coming years. Meanwhile, however, Nora needs Torvald's help.
Jayne Houdyshell plays Anne Marie, her maid/nanny/her children's nanny, a long-suffering, salty housekeeper who has taken on the responsibility for Torvald and the children when Nora walked out the door. Her dry, keenly-timed humor belies what she has sacrificed in her own life while Nora got her independence and now Anne Marie has the chance to tell Nora.
Playing Emmy, Nora's daughter who never knew her mother, Condala Rashad is winning as she cunningly stings Nora with resentments of her own. Will she help Nora? Not a chance. Playing the stolid Torvald, Chris Cooper is splendid in a subtle performance that lands a powerful punch.
When Nora walks out again, she will face much the same problems she did 15 years ago. Well-seasoned with comedy and sentiment, A Doll's House - Part 2 is worth seeing but how you now feel about her is totally up to you.
A Doll's House - Part 2
Theater: Golden Theatre
252 West 45th St., NYC
Preview: May 12, 2017; Opening: May 24, 2017; Closing July 9, 2017
Running time: 90 minutes. No intermission.
Written: Lucas Hnath
Directed: Sam Gold
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors, May 2017
Also appearing in TotalTheater.com