Review: A Sequel Asks, Who’s Knocking on the Door at ‘A Doll’s House’?

That is indeed our Nora who was knocking so boldly for readmittance and is subsequently ushered in by the old Helmer family retainer, Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell, fabulous as usual). As embodied by Ms. Metcalf in a performance exquisitely poised between high comedy and visceral angst, Nora is looking nervous, yes, but also mighty prosperous and pleased with herself.

“Nora, Nora, Nora,” Anne Marie says, with that matter-of-fact way of marveling that Ms. Houdyshell (who won a Tony last year for “The Humans”) does so well. The audience laughs again. And then again, as Anne Marie asks the questions that have been burning in our minds, too: Just what has this runaway wife been doing all these years? Obviously, she’s not dead, as many had presumed.

“Keep guessing,” says Nora, basking in the curiosity. “This is fun.”

If the play ended right there, it might be a perfect multipanel New Yorker cartoon, the kind that appeals to people who pride themselves on remembering their introductory classes in world lit. While it’s a relief that this gloss on a masterpiece isn’t going to be deadly serious, you can’t help worrying that it’s just a bright quick-sketch concept, doomed to dim long before the end of its 90 minutes.

Photo

From left, Jayne Houdyshell, Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in Lucas Hnath’s sequel to “A Doll’s House.”

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Yet Mr. Hnath approaches what might seem like a hubristic project with the humility and avidity of an engaged Everyreader. “A Doll’s House, Part 2” gives vibrant theatrical life to the conversations that many of us had after first reading or seeing its prototype, conducted in our own minds or perhaps over blunts and beers in dorm rooms.

Ibsen left his unlikely maverick of a heroine on the threshold of a dark and undefined future. Haven’t you found yourself pondering not only Nora’s fate but also that of her abandoned husband and children?

You probably haven’t worried so much about the servants, but shame on you, you class-blinkered snob. In any case, Mr. Hnath has. And he makes sure that Anne Marie is allowed her say about the consequences of one woman’s liberation, along with the understandably grumpy Torvald (Chris Cooper) and Nora’s now grown-up daughter, Emmy (Condola Rashad).

This “Doll’s House,” in other words, has many rooms, of roughly equal dimensions. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Miriam Buether has designed only a single set, lighted by Jennifer Tipton, and it’s not so unlike the big, empty rooms in which ideas are hashed out in this season’s two other best new plays: J….

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