The story works fantastically well that way, but when held up to the piece that inspired it, it seems to have come from another dimension.
Lucas Hnath’s Part 2 takes the 19th century classic and adds modern vernacular and insightful wit, while presenting a story centered on women who are battling against oppression.
You may recall, Ibsen’s Doll’s House ends with Nora slamming the door to her home, leaving behind her husband, children and her own squashed life.
Part 2 begins on the other side of the door; Nora is looking for a way back into the life that she abandoned (the reasons for which are compelling- no spoilers here).
Hnath’s ability to give each of his four characters unique perspectives, all the while granting them the ability and insight to explain their motivations, allows an intriguing journey for the audience as it considers the plight at hand.
Laurie Metcalf manages to bring Nora’s rigidness from A Doll’s House to Part 2 while convincing her audience that it was suitable to leave her family in the first place.
Audiences are so easily swept under her wing and seemingly want to like her again, especially when she spouts such feminist lines as: “Marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives.”
She manages to make Nora simultaneously hilarious and bold, navigating her way through gender politics as she pokes at irony and unfairness at every turn.
The supporting cast is equally stellar.
Chris Cooper’s muted Torvald is as important as he is disarmingly quiet. When he finally explodes in a well-timed volcano of resentment and rejection, audiences finally get a glimpse into the spark that brought the couple together in the first place.
Nanny Anne-Marie seems to have been written for Jayne Houdyshell. Her gift for sardonic humor is dynamite, as is her believability as a maternal martyr.
Houdyshell’s performance is as integral to the tone of the play as was her character’s role in the upbringing of the Helmer children in Nora’s absence.
Condola Rashad gives the most startling performance. Her character, Emmy, has experienced Nora’s abandonment most profoundly.
Emmy’s ceaseless effort to find meaning in love and its role in one’s life is done with such fragility and blank expression that the performance is absolutely haunting.
Although Metcalf’s Nora is outfitted to resemble a wealthy Mary Poppins (just check out that bottomless satchel she carries), costume designer David Zinn has dressed her impeccably in garb that alludes to her standoffish demeanor and high-society life.
Miriam Buether’s angular set craftily parallels the uncomfortable nature of the drama at hand, slightly thrusting the stage into the audience for maximum entry into an engaging piece.
The production is a character study and a master class in acting and directing; it smartly features none of the bells and whistles that have come to personify Broadway plays.
The bare stage and the simplicity of the set only serve to magnify an immensely satisfying piece.
Sam Gold’s direction is intelligent and nuanced. Every choice is stirring, from the sparseness of the set to the masculine manner in which Metcalf seats herself.
The actors and their craft are the focal points of Part 2, making every detail outside of them important and interesting in their relevancy.
In a similar fashion to what was accomplished with Gold’s NYTW production of Othello (less so with The Glass Menagerie), the space on the stage leaves room for interpretation and meaty answers to Hnath’s intriguing, hearty and controversial questions.
Audiences will quickly digest the excellent story right to the last word, questioning beliefs they had previously held tight. If that isn’t the definition of good theatre, nothing is.
The show is currently running at the John Golden Theater, 252 W 45th St, New York, NY. (212) 239-6200
For more information about A Doll’s House, Part 2 visit the show’s Web site.