NOTES: See “A Doll’s House: Part 2” before Nora leaves again
Every person who creates something out of nothing—whether writer, painter, dancer, chef, you name it—recognizes that precious and oft-elusive feeling when the idea you have in your head manifests in reality exactly as you imagined it. That clarity of expression is the very apex of creation, and I hope it is what playwright Lucas Hnath feels when he reads or sees his magnificent play, “A Doll’s House Part 2,” which picks up 15 years after the end of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and examines the consequences of Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children.
For me, “A Doll’s House: Part 2” was the best and most rewarding surprise of the 2016-2017 Broadway season. I was wary and only got tickets because I wanted to see everything, but the title was off-putting and the production mysterious. After all, lead producer Scott Rudin did something that almost never happens anymore: he boldly premiered a new play directly on Broadway sans out-of-town tryout, off-Broadway run, or regional theatre circuit tour. Commissioned by South Coast Repertory, the play enjoyed its world premiere in Costa Mesa, California mere days before simultaneously opening on Broadway in a production directed by Sam Gold.
I walked out of the John Golden Theatre on April 26th (the final preview) and was so caught up in the brilliance and thrill of seeing this new play that I had to walk 30 blocks home to work through the energy. In a crisp 90 minutes, Hnath used the construct of Nora returning home to incisively examine the consequences of choices, marriage and divorce, independence, feminism, and gender.
The play is masterful and intoxicating—and also really, really funny. Laurie Metcalf gave a remarkable, Tony winning performance as Nora, and co-stars Chris Cooper as Nora’s husband, Torvald; Condola Rashad as their daughter, Emmy; and Jayne Houdyshell as the hapless maid, Anne Marie, were equally as stunning. I was overjoyed when the play opened to rave reviews, and delighted when it extended through January 2018. Metcalf, Cooper, and Rashad left in July, following the end of their initial contracts, and were replaced by Julie White, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Erin Wilhelmi. Then box office receipts plummeted, and the show’s closing date was briskly moved up to September 24th.
On a last minute whim, I slipped back into Golden on Friday night to catch the play once more before it closes. And I am so glad I did. It remains just as brilliant as I remembered in the haze of April’s openings fiesta when the Tony deadline looms, and the audience was just as vocal and riveted by Hnath’s text. Julie White is a fine replacement for Metcalf, and makes the role her own—no easy feat when following in the footsteps of a Tony winner who originated the character.
Metcalf singularly commanded the stage for the entire marathon 90 minutes that Nora is on, but where she was strident and fierce, White’s Nora is more vulnerable and tentative. Both were hilarious and deeply moving. The climax of the play, a conversation of resolution between Nora and Torvald, is more tender and sad in the hands of White and Henderson than I recall it being with Metcalf and Cooper. Overall, I was pleased to see the play hold up in the hands of another set of talented actors.
In the play’s emotional crux, Nora laments that “it is really hard to hear your own voice.” Lucky for us, Lucas Hnath has. I hope “A Doll’s House: Part 2” has a rich life on stages across the country and around the world for years to come. In the meantime, if you have a free night this week, grab a ticket to see it on Broadway before it’s gone.