GOOD MORNING, NORA
May 19, 2017: Theatre Yesterday and Today
When I leaped to my feet early this morning at the curtain call of A Doll’s House, Part 2, currently playing at the John Golden Theatre, I couldn’t help but glance at my watch. It was 1:40 a.m.
To make things clear, the show hadn’t started at the usual time of 8:00 p.m. It began at midnight, the first time I have ever seen a Broadway play at the dawn of a new day. The last time this phenomenon occurred was in 2001 with the revival of The Rocky Horror Show, which scheduled a special midnight performance to raise money for the Actors Fund, a charity that assists performers. Now A Doll’s House, Part 2 has done the same, and I for one, knew I couldn’t miss it — even if I had to pay to see it all over again (yes, it is really good enough to warrant a second time). The ideas the playwright Lucas Hnath puts forth come at you with such ferocious force, jockeying back and forth between being blisteringly funny and blindingly dramatic, that it is a lot to take in at a single ninety-minute sitting. When I first saw it in previews the week before it opened, I knew almost immediately I would be revisiting it — and soon. Last night at midnight seemed as good (and unique a time) as any.
For one thing, I was able to get this photograph, taken at 1:40 a.m. this morning.
Note that every other marquee on the south side of 45th Street is dark, as it’s lights out once a show has closed its doors and everyone has gone home. But Con Edison could look forward to a few extra bucks in its vault when this idea was concocted, designed to take advantage of what the New York Times reported as “scores of Tony voters who do not live in New York [that] will be in the city for an annual conference. Their schedules are often packed with the big musicals and a lot of parties, so a midnight staging (with cocktail lounges opening an hour before curtain) allows the adventurous among them to pack in one more activity.”
When a show’s producers and actors agree to take on the mission of adding an extra 9th show in a chosen week (taking no compensation), in order to donate all the proceedings to the Actors Fund, it almost always guarantees a great night out. First, it allows actors gainfully employed on stage elsewhere to see something they would otherwise miss out on, and second, they are — needless to say — a great audience. I have been to many such performances over the years, none more memorable that in 1983 when I saw the original cast of Noises Off soar in that back-breaking farce on a Sunday night (for the fifth time in three days). The audience, which boasted a huge contingent of actors, screamed at things that probably went unnoticed by an average theatregoer.
This morning’s performance of A Doll’s House, Part 2 was no different. Every seat in the Orchestra was filled (with a few famous faces scattered there and about) and just as the lights dimmed, signaling the play was about to begin, the audience roared. It must have given a boost to its quartet of actors backstage, who ordinarily would have been home in bed having already given a performance which ended two-and-a-half hours earlier. And as each of the cast made their first appearances, every one of them received a healthy dose of entrance applause, none more so than the play’s leading actress, Laurie Metcalf, who was greeted by one of the longest and most sustained I have heard in all my years at the theatre.
That ovation, in addition to all the glorious notices she has so far received, are richly deserved, as Metcalf is giving one of her very best performances as Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2. And that is saying a lot, because this actress has been killing it ever since her New York Stage debut Off-Broadway in a 1984 revival of Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead. Those who saw her deliver that play’s twenty-minute Act II monologue will never forget it. Frank Rich in the New York Times wrote at the time “that it should in itself prove one of the year’s most memorable theatrical events.”
In case all this has whet anyone’s appetite for seeing A Doll’s House, Part 2, I should probably address whether I consider it necessary to re-read the play on which it is based before seeing this imagined sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s groundbreaking drama A Doll’s House, first produced in 1879. The answer is that it couldn’t hurt, and it would certainly add to one’s enjoyment, but it’s by no means essential to grasp what is at stake. Anything said by these initial creations of Ibsen (save for one, wholly created by Lucas Hnath), is all cleverly woven into the dialogue he has crafted. Under a less talented playwright, scenes that might possibly have come across scolding or turgid are instead beautifully articulated and, at times, hilariously funny. The achievement as a whole, all under the guidance of Sam Gold’s sensitive and keen direction, is enough to take your breath away.
The company includes Chris Cooper as Torvald, Condola Rashad as their now adult daughter Emmy, and Jayne Houdyshell as the devoted nanny and housekeeper, Anne Marie. All are working at the top of their game.
And what a fine game this production is. If Henrik Ibsen could be compared to a genius at chess, who was the first to put into play the intricate pieces that eventually taught all playwrights who came after to him a series of inventive ways to move his characters about the stage, then Lucas Hnath is a natural prodigy, capable of engaging the grand master in a fine match or two. Nominated for eight look to the night of June 11th for A Doll’s House, Part 2 to be recognized with a couple of Tonys at this year’s annual ceremony.
Ron Fassler’s Up in the Cheap Seats: a Historical Memoir of Broadway, is now available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Up-Cheap-Seats-Historical-Broadway/dp/0998168629/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1494611605&sr=8 4&keywords=up+in+the+cheap+seats+book