John Golden Theatre, New York City, (212) 239-6200
A Doll’s House, Part 2
“Welcome back, Mrs. Helmer,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. When an insistent knocking opens Lucas Hnath’s “smart, funny, and utterly engrossing” sequel to A Doll’s House, anyone familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s original will guess who’s waiting to enter. Nora Helmer shocked the world in 1879 when she slammed that door, walking out on her husband, her children, and her comfortable upper-middle-class Norwegian domestic life. Now she’s back, 15 years later, to find out why Torvald, her jilted husband, never finalized their divorce. As played by Laurie Metcalf in a performance “exquisitely poised between high comedy and visceral angst,” Nora seems both nervous to be returning and rightfully pleased with herself. She’s transformed herself into a successful novelist who, writing under a pseudonym, has become a prominent critic of marriage.
Continuities aside, “this is not your grandmother’s Ibsen,” said Maya Stanton in Entertainment Weekly. To begin with, Hnath’s follow-up is consistently funny, and from the moment the Helmers’ longtime nanny, Anne Marie, lets loose her first F-word, the characters demonstrate convincing fluency in 21st-century vernacular. Even so, Part 2 is respectful of the source material, taking its characters’ stories seriously even as it piles on punch lines. Because Nora and Torvald are still legally married, Nora is in danger of losing everything she’s created on her own because of a law prohibiting a married woman from conducting any business without her husband’s consent. Metcalf strikes up a pleasingly tetchy rapport with co-star Chris Cooper, who plays Torvald’s stoicism for laughs. Though Hnath indulges in a few too many “wink-wink” references to the still-unrealized future of women’s rights, he’s given Broadway audiences “an imaginative postscript to a well-loved standard.”
At least that’s how the average theatergoer will greet Hnath’s “thuddingly predictable” tale, said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. Hnath knows his left-leaning audience walks in wanting to support Nora’s decision to abandon her family to seek fulfillment, and he doesn’t challenge that impulse at all. But we’re not meant to side blindly with Nora, said Alexis Soloski in TheGuardian.com. Nora’s 19-year-old daughter, Emmy, was clearly scarred by her mother’s disappearance, and even mounts a strong case for marriage. Far from being a pat endorsement of Nora’s decision, the play “can even be read as a forceful critique of self-actualization.” Though you might prefer more suspense in any show you step out for, “the play’s sophisticated arguments about what we owe to ourselves and to each other are welcome mat enough.”