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A CurtainUp Review
A Doll's House, Part 2

The play has been much lauded and on June 11th took the top prize: The Tony Award for Best Actress in a play for Laurie Metcalf!

I'm not the same person who left through that door. I'm a very different person. — Nora
Jayne Houdyshell and Laurie Metcalf
The Nora Helmer who knocks on the door of Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, certainly is a very different person from the Nora who slammed it behind her at the end of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Fifteen years have passed between that door slam and this knock-knock-knock that begins Hnath's terrific sequel.

And don't let that "sequel" fool you. Ibsen's Nora is indeed the inspirational source for the financially independent and self-confident Nora who walks through the door of Miriam Buether set. So are Hnath's other three characters: Anne Marie, the Helmer children's nanny, Torvald the deserted husband and Emmy, her youngest child.

While a familiarity with at least a plot synopsis of Ibsen's drama will increase your appreciation and enjoyment, A Doll House, Part 2 is a completely original work, that can entertain and stimulate on its own. The play's opening marks the conclusion of this Broadway season and also coincides with our new President's first 100 days in office. While this turn in the road for any president gives us little cause for optimism, A Doll House, Part 2 is welcome proof that there are still playwrights turning out work that can make the playgoing experience great again.

Like The Christians and Red Speedo , . . . .Part 2 is structured to explore big subjects like faith (or rather the loss of it) and moral integrity into George Bernard Shaw-like discussion plays with bravura acting opportunities. Though . . .Part 2's focus is on feminist issues, it's also very much about life's complexities, and how there isn't a single, undisputable right choice for journeying through life. The knock-knock-knock opening leads to a series of intense duets in which Nora gets to not only explain and defend her actions but to get Anne Marie, Torvald and Emmy to help her achieve the aim of her visit.

Obviously, Metcalf is the play's central character. Being the other half of every one of these interchanges she also gets an earful from the others about how her slamming that door has affected them and how they think she should handle the problem that brought her back.

The four-member cast's conversational debates with Nora efficiently integrate details about the events leading up to and following the Ibsen play's finale, and paving the way for tackling the situation that has brought Nora back. For all the talk, there's nothing talky or boring here. The talk is sharp, funny and ripe for exploding into high drama.

Having the characters dressed in David Zinn's period costumes but speak in decidedly contemporary language, smartly mirrors the past and present connections still existing vis-a-vis bad legal rules, the need for social conformity and the way marital relationships are likely to fulfill as well as frustrate. Though you don't realize it until the play's over, it also explains why you are greeted by loud rock music as you take your seat.

For all who wondered how a woman leaving her marriage in Ibsen's day could survive on her own, Hnoth's Nora did not end up in the streets. It seems she became the Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan of her day and published a number of best-selling feminist novels under a pseudonym, startng with the story of her own stifling marriage.

As is evident from her elegant blue suit, Nora has made a pile of money. But prosperous or not, she's still subject to a male dominated legal system. Consequently, Torvald's having failed to follow through on his intention to divorce her has enabled a judge outraged by her book's effect on women, including his own wife, to ruin her.

As portrayed by Laurie Metcalf, Nora is a riveting character. Unlike more typical heroines, she's too self-righteous and willing to let anyone or anything stand in her way to be lovable — but this was also true of some of Ibsen's female characters. Superb actress that she is, however, Metcalf quite effortlessly allows herself to go just a little more soft and emotionally needy.

Of course, Metcalf couldn't wow us with her star-powered performance, without the other participants in the play's dialogues. Jayne Houdyshell as the outspoken Anne Marie once again proves herself to be one of the theater's best character actors. Chris Cooper brings an understated poignancy to Torvald. The scene when his and Nora's arguments erupt into a climactic battle is as powerful as any such marital confrontation I've seen since film maker Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece, Scenes From a Marriage.

Condola Rashad is right on the mark as the daughter who can't really remember her mother . The late in the play first-time meeting between her and Nora is full of surprises. While the nurturing mother-bond was broken when Emmy was a toddler, there's an unmistakable familial kinship in their respective willingness to make tough choices in order to realize divergent ambitions. While this breezy one-acter won't topple Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House from the list of great twentieth century plays, it's as amusing and thought provoking as any sequel can get.

Lucas Hnath is the kind of unique contemporary voice with whom director Sam Gold does his best work. While I admired Gold's gutsy application of Ivo von Hove's method of deconstructing classic plays to The Glass Menagerie didn't really work for me. Interestingly, another Gold directed classic that I wasn't thrilled with was actually Ibsen's own A Doll's House during the Williamstown Theatre Festival's 2011 summer season. In that modernized production, Gold got rid of the slamming door and had Nora shut it quietly, leaving it to an enraged Torval to slam a golf club into a couch.

Happily, the all-important door is now very much present, and never out of our sight or mind throughout the 90 minutes. Gold and his crafts team have given Mr.Hnuth's play the fresh new look and feel it deserves.

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A Doll's House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnate
Lucas Hnath Directed by Sam Gold
Cast: Laurie Metcalf (Nora), Chris Cooper (Torvald), Jayne Houdyshell (Anne Marie), Condola Rashad (Emmy).
Sets: Miriam Buether
Costumes: David Zinn
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton
Sound: Leon Rothenberg
Projections: Peter Nigrini
Hair and Makeup:Luc Verschuren/Campbell Young Associates
Stage Manager: J. Jason Daunter
Running Time: 90 minutes
John Golden Theater 252 West 45th Street
From 4/01/17; opening 4/27/17;closing 7/23/17- extended to 1/07/18 -- changed to early closing: 9/24/17
Julie White (The Little Dog Laughed), Stephen McKinley Henderson and Erin Wilhelmi joined original cast member Jayne Houdyshell on 7/25/17. Despite fine reviews. The show is now closing early
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/28/17 press performance

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