Review: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’—Nora’s Back and Better Than Ever
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, May 19, 2017
It still ends with a closing door, but this time, as is appropriate to the difference between a child and an adult, it isn’t slammed, but closed ruefully, hopefully, and perhaps a tad regretfully. And maybe it’s still something of a battle cry.
A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath (The Christians, Red Speedo) in his Broadway debut, is funny, wise, intriguing, brilliant, and damn crackling good. And as directed by Sam Gold with a fine cast of four it is the speediest 90 minutes on Broadway.
Many of us have wondered, after seeing what will henceforth be referred to as “Part 1,” about whatever happened to Nora after she slammed that door on her family. Given the time and place—Norway in 1879—we probably figured that a woman fleeing her cozy (stultifying, repressive) middle-class life and caring (suffocating, condescending) husband, would end up…what? I bet the survey says a prostitute is the number one answer. A seamstress, teacher, governess are all possibilities on the upside. Dead, on the down.
I’m not going to tell you what Nora’s been doing these 15 years. Suffice it to say, she’s alive and well, and from the very first glance at her fine clothes and apparent good health and vigor, she’s very alive and quite well. As played by the brilliant Laurie Metcalf, she’s come home to get something she needs, rather desperately, and she’s going to have to engage with her long-abandoned family to get it.
But we don’t just get Nora’s story. We hear from household retainer Anne Marie (the tart and endearing Jane Houdyshell) at great and highly entertaining length, and daughter Emmy (smart and subtle Condola Rashad), all grown-up and just as strong and opinionated as the mother she doesn’t remember. And, of course, there’s the abandoned husband Torvald (a subdued Chris Cooper), who has some secrets of his own.
Everyone wants something different, and those differences mean that they all can never be satisfied. Nora, who has gotten what she wants in so many ways, has returned with the biggest want of all. But everyone gets their say, and all the complications and contradictions that the original play set in motion—and are part of every thinking person’s life—are shaken out, shared, and aired.
The play, in both setting and speech, is a somehow-it-works mash-up of nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. The room is nearly empty—a few chairs, a small table. The chairs look somewhat appropriate to the time, but the box of tissues on the table is a strange and almost disturbingly modern touch, as is the bottle of water Nora pulls out of her carpetbag, and the giant yellow letters that broadcast the names of different characters. There are some choice four-letter words thrown about, and the arguments and stories are of their time, yet of ours as well. Just when did Nora slam that door—1879, 1979, or was it last year?
It just shows, as art often does, that people are still and always the same, and the discussions and arguments and fights we had back then are still with us, and probably always will be. It also proves that even in a time when we can switch genders, once you pick one, you’re pretty darn stuck in it.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, through July 23, 2017. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Written by Lucas Hnath. Directed by Sam Gold; scenic design by Miriam Buether; costume design by David Zinn; lighting design by Jennifer Tipton; sound design by Leon Rothenberg; hair and make-up design by Luc Verschueren / Campbell Young Associates; projection design by Peter Nigrini. Cast: Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad.
Cover: (l. to r.) Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper and Jayne Houdyshell in ‘A Doll’s Life, Part 2;’ photo: Brigitte Lacombe.