By: Isa Goldberg
A sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House seems, except for a handful of academic feminists, as long awaited as a cold day in hell. In 1879, when Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece exploded on the European stage, they didn’t even have movies, so who would have cared about a sequel, anyway? Lucas, author of A Doll’s House Part II, clearly does! Like Ibsen, Hnath is taken to the task of challenging a theater which idealizes society’s conventions, and its rigid morals regarding family life and propriety. And Nora is a heroine exactly because she refuses to accept the shackles of a conventional marriage, and an abusive husband.
Hnath’s new play, a chilling dramedy, and the most nominated Broadway show of the season, takes off where Nora walks out of her home, leaving husband and children behind. Still, the play opens a little like Ibsen’s play, with Nora (Laurie Metcalf) entering the family home. In this opening scene Hnath mines the humor from Ibsen’s realistic drawing room. Greeted by the maid (Jayne Houdyshell), Nora gets a quick breakdown on the past 15 years or more of her family’s life. How succinct a drawing room scene is that! If it doesn’t tug on your sense of disbelief, I don’t know what would.
A parody of the modern realistic play, Hnath’s satire brings us to the essence of theater – the concept of wearing masks as the Greek actors of old, the hypokrites, did. An interesting word that. Literally translated it means “an interpreter from underneath,” which is precisely what Hnath is doing by unmasking Ibsen’s characters for the contemporary stage. In modern parlance, the play attacks the hypocrisy, the very glue which Hnath’s characters rely on to keep themselves together.
As we discover, Nora, who has become a popular woman’s novelist, finds out that she faces legal action due to the fact that her husband, Torvald, never filed for their divorce. Furthermore, we learn that Torvald falsified documents to cover up for Nora’s inexplicable absence. The lies that have been spun have turned into a duplicitous web, overtaking their lives, and whatever liberties Nora had hoped to achieve. It’s a wild reveal of familial love, betrayal, abandonment, and the autonomy of the bureaucratic oaths we take for our survival.
As Nora’s banker-husband Torvald, Chris Cooper is the epitome of a man who becomes more and more small minded the more he tries to spin his way out of financial depravity, climb the totem pole of banking, and save himself from social rejection. Cooper, who won the Academy Award for his portrayal of John Laroche, the real-life flower-poacher in the movie, Adaptation, brings a casually eccentric air to his role. It works wonderfully, especially because Metcalf, hot to trot into the reboot of television’s Roseanne, portrays Nora with such over the top comedic gestures, that the nature of their clash appears as physical as it is visceral. Trying to peel her away from tearing up the scenery is clearly quite the challenge. In contrast to Metcalf, Condola Rashad portrays Nora’s daughter, a woman whose moral turpitude belies her upright, youthful presence.
Needless to say, this is a goldmine for director Sam Gold, known for his quirky reimaging of the classics, from this year’s revival of A Glass Menagerie on Broadway to Othello at The New York Theater Workshop. All of the action takes place on Miriam Buether’s single set, like the single drawing room in Ibsen’s play, except this one seems far less cluttered with objects, leaving a lot more room for the acting out that defines and reveals these characters. It‘s also typical of how a divorced man would keep his house–sadly bare, and wanting of a female presence. Jennifer Tipton’s unsubtle, unsubdued lighting puts it all out there in plain sight. As does this terrific ensemble of actors!
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street, NYC
Running Time: 1 Hour 30 minutes
Photos: Brigitte Lacombe