Review | Jessica Chastain leads fresh and bare Broadway revival of ‘A Doll’s House’

Okieriete Onaodowan and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House.
Okieriete Onaodowan and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House.
Courtesy of A Doll’s House

At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s once revolutionary 1879 drama “A Doll’s House,” which ushered in a period of modern realism and social conscience in the theater, Nora, a wife and mother whose sheltered life has been thrown into turmoil, resolves to leave her husband and young children in order to discover and develop her own self-identity and famously exits the house and slams the door behind her.

In Jamie Lloyd’s lean, bare, and surprisingly effective new Broadway revival, Oscar winner Jessica Chastain does not slam the door – in fact, there is no door to speak of – but she nevertheless manages to make quite a dramatic exit (which I will not spoil here).

“A Doll’s House” has not received a Broadway revival in a quarter century. In 2017, there was Lucas Hnath’s feisty comedy “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which imagined Nora visiting her family for the first time in 15 years after becoming a best-selling author in order to officially obtain a divorce.

To be honest, I was not particularly looking forward to revisiting “A Doll’s House.” While I have long admired the play and recognized its historical significance, contemporary revivals (such as one a decade ago at Brooklyn Academy of Music) tend to feel like stuffy and draggy period drama, with the play’s original shock value long gone.

Jamie Lloyd, however, is not an ordinary director. His sharp and absorbing 2019 Broadway revival of “Betrayal” was the best production of any Harold Pinter play I have ever seen, and his contemporary, rap-driven adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac” (which played BAM last year) was stunning.

Here, Lloyd has foregone all period detail and removed traditional production elements (including set and costumes, revealing the theater’s multilevel backstage area) and bits of staging in order to produce a seamless, direct, and fresh reexamination of the play. Although originally written in three acts, it is presented without intermission and runs exactly two hours.

Amy Herzog’s new translation is very faithful to the original text (with some contemporary curse words thrown in for volatile moments).

The actors, dressed simply in black, mostly sit in chairs towards the edge of the stage, as if they are appearing in a reading of the play. Their presentation tends to be chill and soft, as if they are speaking over drinks at a quiet restaurant. (In fact, I wondered whether the production would have worked equally well, if not better, in the digital, Zoom-style format that was popular in the early days of the pandemic.)

I was fortunate to be sitting very close to the stage and wondered how I would have felt if I were sitting in the rear mezzanine or balcony, especially due to the production’s lack of physical movement and emphasis on subtle facial gestures.

Chastain, looking radiant, faces the audience virtually the entire show, leaving her eternally exposed and emphasizing her character’s vulnerability and emotional trajectory. Chastain is also present even before the play formally begins, sitting still, apparently lost in thought, while the stage revolves like a carousel.

The supporting cast is excellent, including Arian Moayed’s condescending and obsessive Torvald (Nora’s husband), Okieriete Onaodowan’s earnest and hurting Krogstad (the outsider who instigates Nora’s crisis), Jesmille Darbouze’s suspicious Kristine (Nora’s companion), and Michael Patrick Thornton’s chill and gentle Dr. Rank (family friend on the verge of death).

Here’s looking forward to Lloyd’s next revival of a play that no one thinks they need to see again. 141 W. 44th St., adollshousebroadway.com.

“A Doll’s House” runs through June 10 at the Hudson Theatre.