Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is certainly not the first time a writer has decided to explore what happens next to someone else’s characters.
Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” crew, Scarlett O’Hara and company, the otherworldly “Dune” population and iconic figures from James Bond to Sherlock Holmes, among many others, have all been adopted and adapted by writers building off their familiarity.
It’s not even the first time for Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” (or “A Doll House,” depending on which translation you read). Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Larry Grossman explored what happened after the original with their ill-fated 1982 Broadway musical “A Doll’s Life.”
None of these follow-up projects, though, seems to have matched the success of Hnath’s play, which proved a hit on Broadway and is now one of the most produced plays in the country (despite its “Do I have to know the original?” marketing challenges).
Alas, the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production (running through April 7) does not make a compelling case for it. I found myself waiting for a why that never arrived.
The play takes place 15 years after the original. At the end of Ibsen’s play, its heroine, Nora, has boldly slammed the door on her past life, leaving her kids and condescending husband.
As the new play opens, so does that door. Nora is back—and this time she needs something from her ex, Torvald.
It seems he never filed divorce papers—something a sexist society deemed that only a husband could do without very specific cause.
But this–and the complication that result–feel more like a Hitchcockian McGuffin than a real problem to be solved. The papers are an excuse to get the two back in the same room to discuss and debate—at a range of decibel levels—relationships, autonomy, and identity.
The costumes are handsome and the backdrop gorgeous at the IRT, while projected names over the doorway, nearly “Parks and Recreation”-ish audience acknowledgement and laugh-generating f-bombs make clear that this isn’t meant to be ersatz Ibsen.
That’s fine. Deconstruction and reimagining can be a lot more interesting than second-rate copycatting. I’d love to see local productions of Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” (which wrestles with Chekhov) and Jen Silverman’s “Witch” (her spin on “The Witch of Edmonton”). And, more commercially, there’s a lot of “Wicked” that I admire.
But even after seeing “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” I’m not clear what it’s bringing to the theatrical table. Instead of being particularly thoughtful or funny or dramatic, it feels like a series of Ted Talks about love and marriage.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for Ted Talks. But even at their most effective, they don’t add up to a satisfying piece of dramatic theater, especially with little here feeling organic.
When a cast seems this competent without generating much heat or magic, I tend to fault casting and direction. I’d love to see this quartet tackle other work but in this world, as directed by James Still, only Torvald (Nathan Hosner) seems to be wrestling with anything real. In a good production of “A Doll’s House,” Nora’s staying or going matters. Not here.
I didn’t see the New York production. But its casting of Laurie Metcalf, and the colorblind choice of Condola Rashad as her daughter, seems to speak to a desire—perhaps a need—to go deeper than just the surface of this material to make it work. At the IRT, Nora’s literal jacket comes off, but never her figurative gloves.
Without that urgency—without the sense that these matters actually matter—“A Doll’s House, Part 2” comes across as compelling—and necessary—as “Jaws 2.”