Home Entertainment ‘A Doll’s House’ Broadway review: Jessica Chastain is trapped

‘A Doll’s House’ Broadway review: Jessica Chastain is trapped

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Often stripping a play all the way down to the bare essentials — easy costumes, just a few chairs — renders it rawer and more authentic.

Not so within the uneven revival of “A Doll’s House,” starring Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, that opened Thursday night on Broadway.


Theater review

Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes. On the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. forty fourth St.

Despite an absorbing performance from the “Eyes of Tammy Faye” actress, British director Jamie Lloyd’s staging is as sterile as an operating room.  

If only the actors donned colourful blue medical scrubs.

As an alternative, everybody here wears drab, metropolitan black clothes. The set of picket seats is dimly lit by eye-straining fluorescents. The solid speaks softly into body mikes, which provides the play an NPR calmness. All things considered, it’s a whole lot of high-minded ideas that never cohere right into a riveting whole. 

Even before the play starts, a Nordic chill settles over Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 tale of Nora Helmer, a repressed housewife with a destructive secret. 

Jessica Chastain stays mostly seated while she plays Nora Helmer in “A Doll’s House” on Broadway.Photo credit: Emilio Madrid

Because the audience shuffles into its seats on the Hudson Theatre, they gawk and snap pictures of Chastain sitting silently in a chair — Marina Abramović style — while a turntable rotates the A-lister around. The actress almost never leaves her seat for the complete 100 minutes.

The pre-show spin cycle is definitely a shout-out to Nora’s climactic famous early-feminist speech wherein she involves the conclusion she has merely been “performing tricks” for her husband Torvald (Arian Moayed), who views his wife and the mother of his children as little greater than a flesh-and-blood ornament.

So, Chastain becomes a doll for us, too. But that quick self-awareness introduces one other problem: the production jumps the gun on the ending.

There may be hardly any suspense or sense of surprise. Reasonably, we get an all-around mood of resignation.

Before the play starts, Chastain rotates around the stage during a several-minutes-long pre-show.Before the play starts, Chastain rotates across the stage for several minutes.Courtesy of A Dollâs House

Nora’s marriage to Torvald, a proud banker, comes across as immediately doomed and loveless, because Chastain’s Nora is particularly aloof and Moayed, while charismatic, plays the hubby as a recent jerk out of a Judd Apatow movie.

The story, subsequently, stays even-keeled with a slow-and-steady pace, like an animatronic ride called “It’s A Doll’s World After All.” 

The intrusion of her old friend Kristine (Jesmille Darbouze) and the vengeful Krogstad (Okieriete Onaodowan) mixes things up, in fact, but only as much as this production of lifeless gray and whispered lines will allow.

Each actors have forceful presences, but are scarily clinical here — Terminators trying to find Nora, as a substitute of Sarah Connor.

How can such a static tone possibly work for a play wherein the fundamental character declares “I even have modified” in the long run?

It only occasionally does.

During that final speech, Chastain is at her most alive and thrilling.

Actually, her Nora is a pleasure to observe throughout for her aura alone, which has come a great distance from her “Heiress” days. She’s held back in additional ways than one by Lloyd’s direction.

The actress' climactic speech is the show's most electric moment, before a misguided ending.The actress’ climactic speech is the show’s most electric moment, before a misguided ending.Courtesy of A Dollâs House

Still, there’s a spark of intrigue and playfulness to whatever move she makes, and as Nora’s burdensome debt involves light, Chastain approaches it with quiet, modern anxiety.   

She’s also gripping when opposite the superb Michael Patrick Thornton as Dr. Rank, Nora’s flirty confidant.

He does best with playwright Amy Herzog’s added colloquial dialogue, and smartly seizes upon the microphone as a chance to be more natural and vulnerable — not one other sexy Siri.    

What’s going to have everybody talking, though, is the ending.

During Lloyd’s tackle the play’s well-known final moment, people seated around me giggled, “ooo”d and “ahh”d as if a chandelier had just plummeted over the orchestra.

Back in 1879, Nora’s ultimate decision caused a societal uproar, so the director might be trying to present us the “I Can’t Consider It’s Not Butter” version of that.

And, by itself, it’s a fun trick.

Yet, call me quaint, but to take a play a couple of woman who powerfully realizes she’s not only a plaything for men, but her own human being, and end it with a cutesy gimmick is wrongheaded.

It’s one other silly toy within the dollhouse.    

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