A Doll’s House, Part 2: Nora’s Back

I love A Doll’s House. I love that it pushed boundaries at the time when it was written and Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending because it gave such a middle finger to conventional endings. (To be clear: I don’t like that he had to write an alternative ending though to get it produced.) I saw it three years ago at BAM  and it was an exquisite production. I didn’t know what to expect at all from A Doll’s House: Part 2, or even why it’d be written (by Lucas Hnath) but Kristen and I both love Laurie Metcalf so we grabbed tickets on TDF and went last Sunday. Our seats were in the front-rear mezzanine which was fine. There’s only one setting and all the action takes place downstage.

There was modern punk rock music being played during walk-in which was very unexpected but also awesome, and also reminiscent of the walk-in music used during Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. All good things.

A Doll’s House: Part 2 takes place 15 years after Nora (Metcalf) walks out on her husband and she’s back now because she wrongly assumed that her husband had filed divorce papers after she’d walked out and when that turned out not to be the case, she realized her career (writing books about why women should feel  free to leave their husbands and how marriage is a sham) was in jeopardy. Sorry, spoiler? She has a huge monologue when she first arrives at the house and is talking to Anne Marie (the impeccable and hysterical Jayne Houdyshell) that is up my alley, 100%. She says something about why get married to spend the rest of your life with someone? You can do that without getting legal papers involved, she says, and I concur.

I was so onboard after her rant and ate up every word that Nora said. Torvald (the stern and unforgiving Chris Cooper) refuses to divorce her because she walked out and her daughter Emmy (the matter-of-fact and comical Condola Rashad) has a rebuttal for every one of Nora’s cynical comments about marriage, as she herself is engaged. And Metcalf is incredible, as always. She’s irreverent and direct and loves her life since she left her husband.

I won’t tell you it ends, but I went in not knowing what to expect and loved every minute of this 90-minute-no-intermission masterpiece of a follow-up on a classic play. It closes on July 23rd, so get your tickets soon.

I studied Ibsen’s A Doll’s House numerous times in college but I’d never had the chance to see it onstage. I loved the history of play – being forced to adopt an alternate ending for the first few decades because the idea of a wife leaving her husband and children was so unbelievable – and I appreciated the themes even more now as an adult.

Since it’d been a while since I’d read the play I’d forgotten what a crazy person Nora, the protagonist, is. She’s materialistic, loves money, and counts hers daily. She’s just fine with being called a little bird, a sparrow, etc. by her husband and taking care of his children when her nanny isn’t around. A childhood friend of Nora’s, Christine, makes a surprise visit in desperate times. As the play progresses and there’s a chance that an old secret could come out to her husband (Torvald) that would ruin Nora in his eyes forever, she grows a thicken skin. In her eyes she was doing what she had to in order to keep her husband alive and in the process she’d committed fraud. As the long-time secret is finally revealed, Torvald says he’ll forgive her and calls her his child. This is where she breaks and decides to leave him and be on her own.

Like Machinal, she needed to get out of her life and be on her own. If that meant deserting her family, the unthinkable in those days, then so be it. It was so brilliant to see a woman coming into her own and asserting her right to put herself before her family. I’m assuming this was very uncommon during this time period (as it’s still uncommon sometimes presently, which is so, so sad).

This transfer from London’s Young Vic is exquisite. The set (another rotating set! this time by Ian MacNeil) is perfect. You see the rooms and hallways of this tiny apartment as it spins and makes the scene changes incredibly quick. The lighting (by Guy Hoare) is moving as well.

But the best part of this production? Mabel Clements as Nora. She was outstanding. Her transformation from a man’s little bird to her own independent human was precise and most importantly believable. She was fantastic and I hope she does more theatre in New York. 

The cast was pretty fantastic all around, all were on the same page, and included Simon Desborough, Nick Fletcher, Leda Hodgson, Caroline Martin, Hattie Morahan, Dominic Rowan, and Steve Toussaint. There were also two children, and one tiny baby who makes an appearance for about 60 seconds (I wonder if he/she is getting equity minimum for that!).

BAM’s production of A Doll’s House is perfection in every way. Go see it now. 

And thanks to David for taking me along!