With Lucas Hnath's lucid and absorbing A Doll's House, Part 2, the Broadway season goes out with a bang. It is not the same kind of bang, mind you, that ended Henrik Ibsen's 1879 social drama, A Doll's House, in which bourgeois Norwegian wife Nora Helmer walked out on her doting husband and young children with a decisive (and divisive) slam of the door. In Hnath's taut sequel, set 15 years later, the runaway bride-played by the great Laurie Metcalf, with magnificent grit and frustration-returns to confront the people she left behind: her husband, Torvald (a sympathetic Chris Cooper); her now-grown daughter, Emmy (Condola Rashad, poised and glinting); and the family servant, Anne Marie (the uncommonly sensible Jayne Houdyshell).
A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 Broadway Reviews
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The commercial theater, or for that matter the non-commercial theater, does not regularly present us with new plays of ideas - let alone comedies of ideas. Hnath's play fairly sets your head spinning with its knotty perspectives. Each scene in this whiplash-inducing (in a good way) play flashes forth a new revelation to absorb and process, although it has only four characters - and, yes, they are all essentially holdovers from the 1879 Ibsen play that Hnath is both honoring and interrogating.
A Doll's House, Part 2," which is receiving its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, had its official opening on Thursday at Broadway's Golden Theatre in a separate production confirming that Lucas Hnath has written one of the year's best plays. Sam Gold's production resembles in its tasteful austerity Shelley Butler's slightly more posh West Coast staging. There's the same looming door that Nora slammed at the end of Ibsen's "A Doll's House," leaving behind her husband and three small children. There's the same vacated sitting room, equipped with just a few elegant chairs that can be shuffled around in the unlikely event anyone pays a social call to what looks like a domestic crime scene of a very cold case.
You wouldn't think that a continuation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House - a groundbreaking, 1879 feminist drama about a wife who leaves an unhappy marriage to find herself - would be funny, but humor abounds in playwright Lucas Hnath's creative sequel. Directed by Sam Gold, A Doll's House, Part 2 imagines what would happen if, 15 years later, Ibsen's Nora were to walk back through the door she exited at the close of his third act. At the time, Ibsen's decision to have his protagonist abdicate her marital and familial responsibilities in favor of self-discovery and personal happiness was a shocking one, seen as a threat to the institution of marriage as a whole; Hnath's script supposes that the fictional Nora has been confronted with similar accusations as her creator, and deals with them in head-on, often gleeful fashion.
The last show to open on Broadway this season turns out to be the funniest, and the sharpest play of the year, which is a pleasure to report. A Doll's House, Part 2, which opened tonight at the Golden Theatre, is not so much a sequel to Henrik Ibsen's proto-feminist groundbreaker of 1879 as it is a heartfelt meditation on how far we've come in the century and a quarter since. If that sounds more like a master's thesis than a comedy, you need only know that Lucas Hnath's 90-minute quartet contains five S-bombs, four F-bombs and the return of Laurie Metcalf (after the futility of Misery) in full blossom as Ibsen's Nora Helmer, last seen making the most famous stage exit in the canon not involving a bear.
One of the most famous exits in modern drama prompts an entrance that bristles with tension, provocation and unexpected subversive humor in Lucas Hnath's terrific new play, A Doll's House, Part 2. After acquiring a rising-star reputation with spiky works like The Christians, about evangelical megachurches, and Red Speedo, about doping in professional sports, Hnath makes an audacious Broadway debut with this pithy sequel. It delivers explosive laughs while also posing thoughtful questions about marriage, gender inequality and human rights that reverberate across the almost 140 years since Henrik Ibsen's original was first produced in 1879.
The highest praise you can give playwright Lucas Hnath is that he should now write a sequel to "A Streetcar Named Desire." He's up to the task, as evidenced by his arresting new comedy, "A Doll's House, Part 2," which opened Wednesday at the Golden Theatre.
So, did Godot ever show up? Were George and Martha able to save their marriage? And whatever happened to Nora after she slammed the door? In "A Doll's House, Part 2," Lucas Hnath pulls off the dramatic parlor trick of bringing back Ibsen's iconic heroine - in the incomparable person of Laurie Metcalf - to answer that question 15 years later. Despite the modern idiom that Hnath slings around with gleeful humor, it's amazing how women's lives haven't changed.
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.
More than 100 years ago, Nora walked out of ‘A Doll’s House.’ Now in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2,’ she walks back in.
Hnath ultimately allows us to believe that even an iconoclast as single-minded as Nora is capable of learning from what she has lost. In Metcalf, one of the great stage actresses of our time, he and Gold have found an ideal vessel for conveying Nora's capacity for growth and fearlessness. "A Doll's House, Part 2? demonstrates just how imposing is that big doorway Nora walked through once upon a time, and the guts it takes to keep walking through it, again and again.
It's no news that Metcalf is a superlative actress. Looking elegant and completely self-possessed, she presents a Nora who has changed greatly from the "little bird" she was to Torvald. Metcalf's Nora is very much a modern woman-an obviously calculated manifestation of how Ibsen's implied message about future equality of the sexes has materialized.
What is ultimately striking about A Doll's House, Part 2 is that it is a work of equality in a play that wrestles with that very concept. It has an encompassing generosity: Every character on stage, as written by the masterful Hnath, is conceivably right, which isn't to say that their faults aren't also clearly shown too. We believe all of their emotional truths, and all their self-delusions.
I have suppressed the impulse to interrogate the logic of the story too carefully; though it makes an unusually strong case for the road it takes, surely there are potholes. But this is not the point. Hnath is not using the preexisting characters and their backstory (let alone the real woman - a friend - on whom Ibsen based the tale) as ways of avoiding having to create something original; rather, they are springboards to something very new indeed. The march of progress, halting as it is, has allowed a male playwright in 2017 to write a work that the inhabitants of A Doll's House (Part 1) in 1879 could never have imagined: a great feminist comedy. By that I mean a stand-alone work that glories in the self-interest and correctability of all women - and all men.
Welcome back, Mrs. Helmer, if that's the name you still go by. And just what do you have to say for yourself after all these years? Quite a lot, it turns out, and they are words to hang on. Mr. Hnath's Broadway debut, which is directed by Sam Gold and features a magnificent Laurie Metcalf leading one of the best casts in town, is audaciously titled "A Doll's House, Part 2." Yes, it dares to be a sequel to Henrik Ibsen's revolutionary 1879 portrait of marriage as a women's prison.
Nora Helmer damaged a lot of people when she left home at the end of Ibsen's "A Doll's House." Roughly a century and a half later, playwright Lucas Hnath is mining that pain for comic gold in a star-studded sequel (of sorts), "A Doll's House, Part 2," now open at the Golden Theatre.
As each character gets their big scene, their name is projected in enormous letters. Each character adds to the conversation about serious subjects - marriage, men and women, freedom, rights, equality. The issues aren't new but presented in intriguing ways. Still, something nags: Since you can't backdate a divorce do Nora's current efforts even matter? That doesn't come up in this production, which plays Nora's situation very much as comedy. Metcalf, a seasoned stage vet who's known for the sitcom "Roseanne," can clown with the best of them. Just saying the word "no," Metcalf's face is an avalanche of motion.
Hnath's play is less a conventional sequel than a thought experiment inspired by the original. Luckily, Hnath, whose formally inventive plays include Isaac's Eye and The Christians, is no mean thinker. His scenes, typically structured as two-character conversations between Nora and Torvald (Chris Cooper), Nora and her daughter (Condola Rashad), Nora and her former nanny (Jayne Houdyshell), read as answers to an interior FAQ: what would bring Nora back? How would those she's left behind receive her? Has she achieved emancipation? At what cost?
It's apparently never too late to create a sequel - even to a Norwegian domestic drama written more than a century ago. Lucas Hnath, who had two of his plays ("The Christians," "Red Speedo") produced last year by major off-Broadway companies to great acclaim, now makes his Broadway debut with the lightweight but feisty comedy "A Doll's House, Part 2." This marks the play's New York debut following a world premiere just last month on the West Coast.