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NORA'S BACK Lucas Hnath’s A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 is the freshest playwriting on Broadway this season, ingeniously conceived, economically executed. The premise – what happens if Ibsen’s Nora returns to confront her husband after having abandoned him and her infant child 15 years before – is so rich in dramatic possibility, it’s a wonder why no other playwright hadn’t fully exploited it in the almost 140 years since A Doll’s House revolutionized theatre. (The short-lived 1982 musical A Doll's Life briefly dealt with Nora's return.)

The setting, by design and costuming, is period late 19thC, but the story and the dialogue contemporary. Nora, played with spunky authority by Laurie Metcalf, has made her single way in the world, with many lovers, becoming a best-selling author of what might be called pop chicklit. She and husband Torvald, a stolid (to a point) Chris Cooper, never had a formal divorce and she needs his explicit consent to it to avert legal challenges to her work - and financial ruin. Hnath’s writing style is an exemplar in the active form of storytelling: characters and their conflicts, as Hnath plainly demonstrated in last year’s RED SPEEDO, drawn with energy, clarity and precision. Sam Gold directs in the same mode.

Housekeeper Anne Marie, defined with perfect comic timing by Jayne Houdyshell, still harbors affection for Nora but resents being left to keep house and home for Torvald and raising Nora’s daughter, Emmy. Torval, attracted still to Nora, is determined, this time, not to lose the age-old battle of the sexes. Emmy, a cool Condola Rashad, wrestles to rationalize the intellectual freedoms of a younger generation of women with the emotional void of a mother she never knew. Each tell their POV, Nora defends herself, and they all spar in plain, every-day terms on matters that we know are about gender, identity, feminism, and social change but, unlike plenty of playwrights today, Hnath isn’t pretentious in talking about gender, identity, feminism and social change. Did I mention What's love got to do with it?

A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2 is 90 minutes of smart, witty, entertaining theater we need more of. Don't miss it.

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