‘A Doll’s House’ reviews: An ‘impeccable’ production brings Jessica Chastain and Nora Helmer back to Broadway

Henrik Ibsen’s world-(in)famous play “A Doll’s House” has not been seen on Broadway in over 25 years, when Janet McTeer led a production under the direction of Anthony Page. Now, into the shoes of legendary character Nora Helmer steps Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, starring in a work adapted by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Amy Herzog and directed by Tony Award nominee Jamie Lloyd. “A Doll’s House” opened March 9 at the Hudson Theatre and will play through June 10, just one day before the Tonys.

Joining Chastain in Ibsen’s form-defining domestic drama about the oppressive gender politics of the so-called private sphere in nineteenth-century Norway are Emmy nominee Arian Moayed as her husband Torvald, Okieriete Onaodowan as the opportunistic Nils Krogstad, Michael Patrick Thornton as the sympathetic Dr. Rank, Jesmille Darbouze as Nora’s old friend Kristine Linde, and Tasha Lawrence as the Helmers’ nanny.

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“A Doll’s House” received mostly positive notices. Jesse Green (New York Times) gives the production a Critic’s Pick, calling it “incisive” and a “compelling, surgically precise revival” that is “chic and visually minimal.” He applauds Herzog’s adaptation, saying that her dialogue, “pruning the social floweriness and conversational whorls of Ibsen’s naturalism, gets right to the point of every line, leaving the text raw and red, as if exfoliated.” Though he quibbles with some of the supporting players, he commends star Chastain, who “beautifully” conveys all of Nora’s increasingly precarious situations and emotional state.

Peter Marks (Washington Post) also found the production an “impeccable revival,” writing that audiences will be “blown away by the attention that’s been given to elucidating conflict and exploring character.” He shares compliments for the entire cast, describing Moayed as “magnetic” for bringing “to Torvald a terrifying fury, slowly bubbling up like molten lava,” saying, “Darbouze and Thornton turn in outstanding portrayals,” and spotlighting Chastain’s “smashingly fine-tuned performance.”

Not all of the critics were as effusive, though. Jackson McHenry (Vulture), for one, says that in this production, the “just-the-bones approach makes for thin broth.” He thinks director Lloyd “over-eggs the dread, distorting your ability to get subtext.” Even so, he does give kudos to Moayed as “a believably insecure mansplainer in skinny jeans,” Onaodowan, who “brings out the sadness in Nils,” and Thornton, who “lends a sweetness to his Dr. Rank.” The end of his review also crucially hints at a key visual in the staging that doesn’t play perfectly to every seat in the house.

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If Lloyd’s approach sounds familiar, it is because his work here largely draws on an arsenal he previously deployed to great effect in his recent, stark remounting of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.” That 2019 production earned four Tony nominations, including Best Revival, Actor (Tom Hiddleston), Director, and Scenic Design (Soutra Gilmour, who did the set and collaborated with Enver Chakartash on the costumes for “Doll’s House”). His take on Ibsen will likely fare just as well come the nominations announcement in May, if not even better. Since Tony nominators embraced his similarly minimalist take on Pinter with a Director nomination, they could very easily do the same this time around, especially as a counterpoint in a season with lush realism in “Leopoldstadt” and technical marvels like “Life of Pi.”

With only five eligible revivals opening this 2022-23 Broadway season, the Best Revival category will have three nominees, barring any statistical ties. “A Doll’s House” is a strong contender — but not a lock — for one of those slots, especially given the strong responses to revivals of “Death of a Salesman,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Topdog/Underdog,” and “Ohio State Murders.” Chastain, meanwhile, will make a very strong claim for her first Tony nomination. She will compete for one of four slots with Jodie Comer (“Prima Facie”), Audra McDonald (“Ohio State Murders”), Adrienne Warren (“Room”), Laura Linney and Jessica Hecht (“Summer, 1976”), and Zoe Wanamaker (“Pictures From Home”), and could very likely take home her first award, too. In the Featured categories, look out for not only previous nominee Moayed, who drew Tony attention in the past for “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” but also standout Thornton.

In the design categories, the production’s sparse set may not seem like an obvious nominee for Scenic Design — and indeed, there are almost two dozen productions vying for one of the five slots in these design categories — but Gilmour’s work on “Betrayal” did earn her a nomination in the past, albeit in a truncated season. Lighting Designer Jon Clark just won his first Tony for “The Lehman Trilogy” last year and could return to defend his title, but some reviewers did quibble with how the lighting is utilized in some moments in this production. “A Doll’s House” does seem like a solid contender for Sound Design, though, because of how it amplifies the nuances of Ibsen and Herzog’s words to magnetic effect. Marks describes the work of Ben and Max Ringham as “so sensitive that we hear every syllable, every gasp.”

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