Tony Awards spotlight: Laurie Metcalf is force of nature in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’

Laurie Metcalf has won three Emmys for her role on “Roseanne,” but a Tony win still eludes her despite three previous nominations. That could change this June thanks to a heavy hitting role in Lucas Hnath’s new comedy “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

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Hnath’s script picks up 15 years after Henrik Ibesen’s masterpiece left off. Nora (Metcalf) returns to the home and family she left behind following the infamous door slam. In a plot that could be pulled out of a sitcom, Nora suddenly requires the help of her ex-husband Torvald (Chris Cooper), nanny and confidant Ann-Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), and daughter Emmy (Condola Rashad).

Never leaving the stage for play’s 90 minutes,  Metcalf is a force of nature speaking  Hnath’s contemporary dialogue. The actress draws upon years of skill developed in the sitcom world to deliver the one-liners. The rapid-fire pacing at the play’s start gives way to intensely emotional scenes later on. The actress leads the audience to these places in a way that pulls the rug out from under you. She successfully turns on a dime from high comedy to tenderness and then to boiling rage. If a performer had to dream up a Tony-quality dream role, safe to say it would look a lot like this Nora.

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Here’s some of the critical praise heaped upon  Metcalf’s performance:

Marilyn Stasio (Variety) “Metcalf is amazing, uncovering so many facets to Nora — her intelligence, her wit, her pluck, her courage — while retaining the humor to laugh at her idiocies.”

Maya Stanton (Entertainment Weekly) “Open yet guarded, defensive about her choices but also convinced that she made the right ones, her Nora is a woman who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to say so. It’s a revelatory performance, rife with physicality and determination.”

Robert Kahn (NBC New York) “Metcalf has the flat, impassioned tone of someone who has grown accustomed to not pleasing anyone but herself. She’s marvelous as a woman naturally good at wheedling and manipulating, but forced to interact with three others who know her tricks.”

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So far, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” has not been lighting up the box office. I’m guessing the “Part 2” of the title is scaring away potential ticket buyers who haven’t read the Ibsen play. Awarding a box office dud may not be appealing to some Tony voters, but after the raves it received on opening night, the weekly gross is bound to increase. The availability and affordability of tickets during previews could be the play’s secret weapon: no new Broadway play has better word of mouth. Once people discover knowledge of the original play is not necessary, they’re going to want to see the cast their friends have been going gaga over.

A well received play will also provide Tony voters the chance they’ve been waiting for to reward Metcalf. She has been the sole Tony nominee from every production for which she’s been nominated (“November” in 2008, “The Other Place” in 2013, and last season’s “Misery”). Few actors can garner that type of continual recognition from otherwise ignored shows. If “A Doll’s House, Part 2” makes the cut for Best Play, you would be wise to have Metcalf at the top of your Best Actress predictions.

Predict the Tony Awards nominees now; change them until May 2

Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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