Performing Arts: Theater
May 8, 2017
She hands him back his wedding ring, gets up, and walks out abandoning her three children and husband, And no, this was not last week, it was the final scene in Henrik Ibsen’s revolutionary 1897 play “A Doll’s House.”

Now, Nora is back. Yes, she’s returned after a mere fifteen years to confront her husband and willing or not, face her past as told by playwright Lucas Hnath. This is not a choice, it’s a necessity because in the intervening time she did not succumb to the poor house, she did became a successful “woman’s book” writer. Only problem, she received payment and royalties that as a married woman she could not accept and to her dismay, Torvald never filed the divorce papers. So legally, Nora remains married to Torvald. Yikes! That means she could go to jail. Therefore Nora goes home again.

A large wooden door dominates the spare, high-ceilinged drawing room designed by Miriam Buether. Suddenly, a strong insistent knock announces Nora’s (Laurie Metcalf) arrival. The family door opens and the very same nursemaid who consoled her and raised her children greets her. Believing that Nora is back to see the children, the nursemaid, Anne Marie ((Jayne Houdyshell) becomes disconcerted to hear that the visit has everything to do with Nora’s perseveration, and nothing to do with the family’s well being.

Structurally, Hnath choreographs a round robin exchange allowing everyone in the cast an opportunity to present their experience of Nora’s departure and subsequent return. Up first, is Nora. In a prosecutorial tone, Nora challenges Anne Marie to guess what happened, then asks and answers her own questions.

Expertly pitching gritty answers streaked in dark, dry humor, Nora recounts how she survived, took lovers and gained a fully shaped life. Remaining as restless as ever, Nora covers wads of stage space, dropping to the floor, plopping onto chairs and swigging water from a plastic bottle inside her oversized black bag. (OK, I found the plastic bottle disconcerting because it was not keeping with the 1900’s décor and considering the climate debate, why not pull out a glass bottle?)

In contrast to Nora’s frenetic demeanor, her grown daughter, Emmy (an excellent Condola Rashad) remains still. Not moved by the sight of her mother, Emmy peers into the distance. Completely her father’s daughter, Emmy instinctively recognizes her mother is not there for the family, but for herself. She projects a marvelous portrait of a young woman who rejects her mother while fully knowing herself.

On the other hand, the nursemaid, Anne Marie, reprimands Nora for her thoughtlessness and selfishness. When Nora charges Anne Marie with sacrificing her own daughter to raise another family’s children, Houdyshell grows a foot taller and commands Nora fall at her feet and thank her for raising the family she ignored.

Finally, Torvald (Chris Cooper) enters. Tense yet intimately familiar, the two come together and re-visit the old hurts, still charging each other with emotional crimes and misdemeanors. Sedate, quiet, and emotionally subterranean, Torvald does not change his life after Nora’s departure. Torvald never re-marries, and confesses to never terminating their marriage, which now jeopardizes Nora’s freedom.

Gold’s direction expertly delineates the characters by investing each with a unique physicality and underscoring the text’s rhythm speeding the 90-minute play along. A riveting production, no previous knowledge of Ibsen’s “Doll House” is required. Don’t miss Metcalf explode in one of the season’s most fiercely nuanced performances.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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