It begins with a knock. And a chuckle. The knock is onstage. The chuckle, from audience members familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of the most significant plays of the 19th century. The play questioned marriage norms and a woman’s role in society, and at the end, its female protagonist, Nora, leaves her husband and famously walks out the door — leaving her husband, her children, and life as she knows it, behind. That knock is a sure sign that something is amiss.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 picks up 15 years later and Nora has come home. Well, not home, exactly, for she’s made quite a life for herself as a writer working under a pseudonym. If home is where the heart is, then it’s not here, for Nora seems perfectly happy—sometimes giddy, in fact — with the new life she’s created for herself.
Except there’s one major problem. Nora’s real name has been found out, and there’s someone out to ruin her, for her writings have inspired other women to leave their husbands and this particular fellow — a judge — isn’t too keen on that. It gets better. Or worse, as the case may be. Nora’s husband, Torvald, never filed divorce papers, so all of Nora’s endeavors have technically been illegal. So the gauntlet has been thrown down. Either she gets Torvald to agree to a divorce or she likely faces incarceration. And then there’s the small issue of her children she’s left behind.
Nimbly written by Lucas Hnath and exquisitely directed by Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a tour de force for its ensemble of actors, each of which has earned a Tony nomination for his or her performance. At its core is Laurie Metcalf as Nora, who relishes Hnath’s script for every juicy word and smartly juxtaposes period conventions and modernisms.
Metcalf’s counterpoints include the hilarious Jane Houdyshell as Anne Marie, the family nanny who sacrificed her own life to pick up the pieces after Nora’s departure and essentially raised her children. Her foul-mouthed character is terrific ammunition for what’s in store.
Eventually, Torvald (Chris Cooper) comes home, and the former couple has at it in a series of verbal boxing matches that sling blame, hurts, and truths. If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you might cringe at the familiarity of arguments. Cooper is, perhaps, more subtle than his onstage counterparts. He’s made a career in film and television, and while you can see the cogs turning, it’s not quite as dynamic a performance as his female co-stars.
This includes Condola Rashad as Emmy, Nora and Torvald’s daughter. Simultaneously sweet-natured yet with a sharp tongue that she inherited from her mother despite her lack of presence, Emmy hatches yet another plan to possibly preserve everyone’s futures, but Nora is reluctant to latch on, saying one of many resonating passages throughout the play:
…20, 30 years from now
the world isn’t going to be the kind of place I say it’s going to be unless
I’m the one to make it that way –
Gold directs A Doll’s House, Part 2 with the precision of a surgeon, gifting the ensemble with a physical and emotional roadmap that is nothing short of electric. The production design, including scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by David Zinn, and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, supports this vision.
Torvald eventually returns, having taken action of his own, but once again, Nora stands on her own two feet, deciding to bear the consequences, finally saying:
The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would,
but I know that someday everything will be different, and everyone will be free — freer than they are now.
… I just hope I live to see it
Don’t we all.
A Doll’s House, Part 2
252 West 45th Street, NYC
Through July 23
A special midnight performance of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is scheduled for Thursday, May 18, with proceeds benefitting The Actors Fund.