In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Broadway premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2. Here’s an excerpt.
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Hugh Kenner defined conceptual art as that which, once described, need not be experienced. Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” comes perilously close to filling that bill. Staged with ostentatious austerity by Sam Gold, it’s a sequel to the celebrated 1879 play by Henrik Ibsen in which Nora Helmer, a mother of three, walks out on her children and her emotionally null marriage to seek personal fulfillment elsewhere, famously slamming the front door behind her as she departs. In Mr. Hnath’s play, Nora (Laurie Metcalf) returns to her former home 15 years later, having written a best-selling memoir about the evils of bourgeois wedlock that has made her rich and famous. While she has certain residual problems that require 90 melodramatic minutes to work out, she assures her estranged husband (Chris Cooper) in an end-of-show speech that she will soldier on nobly in the hope of making life better for All Women Everywhere: “I know that someday everything will be different, and everyone will be free—freer than they are now.” Curtain. Standing ovation. I just saved you $147….
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is tensionless: We know going in what we’re supposed to think of Nora, and we know we won’t be asked to change our minds about her. That’s why it’s being performed on Broadway by Ms. Metcalf, Mr. Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad instead of in a black-box theater by nobody in particular….
It’s hard to imagine that more than a smallish subset of the people who came to the John Golden Theatre on Wednesday had read “A Doll’s House,” much less seen it produced. They came for the cast, or because of the buzz (Mr. Hnath is very fashionable). If it was the cast that lured the crowd, they got their money’s worth, especially from Mr. Cooper. He is one of the finest character actors we have, a latter-day Spencer Tracy whose unmannered, understated strength and simplicity always impress, and it is a joy to see him make something plausible out of the role of Torvald Helmer, the benighted mansplainer who finally sees the light….
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Read the whole thing here.