WHAT “A Doll’s House, Part 2”
WHERE Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
INFO $39-$147; 212-239-6200; dollshousepart2.com
BOTTOM LINE Dazzling, droll sequel to Ibsen’s “Doll’s House.”
The whereabouts of Nora Helmer have been imagined, debated and even dramatized since 1879, when she shocked the Victorian world by slamming the door on her ostensibly happy marriage in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” No less than Harold Prince directed a musical sequel, “A Doll’s Life,” which lasted five performances on Broadway in 1982.
Boldly going where others found only pitfalls is Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which closed the door on this remarkable Broadway season with dazzling theatrical fireworks. The play — a psychologically serious, deliciously amusing tragicomedy — extends Ibsen’s three-act, multicharacter masterwork with just four characters in an intense but surprisingly breezy 90 minutes.
But how trenchantly these four are portrayed in director Sam Gold’s stark, audacious, daringly acted production. First is Laurie Metcalf, magnificent and droll as Nora, who returns to knock on the family door after having disappeared for 15 years. And there is Chris Cooper, touching as the still-baffled Torvald, the banker who believed he had given his adored wife everything while infantilizing her into a stifled precious possession.
Still living in the house is Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), affable and furious as the servant who gave up her own life to help raise Nora’s children. Finally, we meet Condola Rashad, who sparkles even when she hurts, as grown-up Emmy, the daughter abandoned as a child by a mother she hardly remembers.
The production is in period dress (perceptively designed by David Zinn), yet everyone talks (and swears) in the blunt, conversational dialogue of today. The foyer where everything happens (designed by Miriam Buether) is a diamond shape that points out over the audience. Torvald, obviously resenting the loss of a woman’s touch, has stripped the room down to four chairs, split between opposing walls. People anguish on the floor.
It would be a crime to reveal too much of the twisty, devious plot by Hnath, a provocative young playwright in his Broadway debut. We learn that the townsfolk believed Nora had died and that Nora, who has done splendidly well for herself, has found herself the victim of a blackmail scheme similar to the one that drove her out in the original.
We come to understand each character’s perspective. Periodically, a name is projected on the wall, a bit like Showtime’s “The Affair.” Hnath lets no one off the hook about women, the law and marriage. He also keeps us guessing until the last possible moment. And, though it seems trivial to mention in this context, Nora’s gown may be the most beautiful dress I have seen in my life.