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 not 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, Marie (Jayne Houdyshell, who New York audience now great 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 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 they 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 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.
A Doll’s House Part 2
Credits Written by Lucas Hnath; Directed by Sam Gold
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad
Set by Miriam Buether; Lights by Jennifer Tipton; Costumes by David Zinn
John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200 Through July 23 FIND TICKETS