‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’
Through June 30
Round House Theatre
at The Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St., N.W.
As its intentionally cheeky title suggests, playwright Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” (now at Round House Theatre) takes up where Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 proto-feminist masterpiece leaves off. Ibsen ends “A Doll’s House” with cossetted wife and mother Nora Helmer literally slamming the door on stifling domesticity and seeking liberation in uncharted territory.
Hnath’s 2017 sequel fast-forwards 15 years. Nora, now a successful writer and feminist firebrand, unexpectedly returns to the scene of her famed exit. There she finds surprises, strong opinions and recriminations.
When Round House asked out actor Holly Twyford to play the heroine in Hnath’s entertaining play (a part played by Laurie Metcalf on Broadway), she was uncertain. But just five pages in, Twyford was seduced by the script’s “layers and colors,” humor and fierce drama.
“The sheer story of what’s she’s been through is a lot,” says Twyford during a recent phone interview, part of a long day she spent cheerfully slogging through press questions despite just getting over a cold. “Leaving your children is not a small thing. We’ve had a lot of discussions about that in rehearsal.”
As a parent of tween daughter Helena, Twyford personally relates: “I’d have to think long and hard about what circumstances would make that OK. And that’s what Nora did. She had to make incredibly hard choices. She knew it was better for everyone, her children included, if she left. And the way Hnath picks up on the story, is fantastic. You understand each character’s point of view. You’re not quite sure who to root for because you care about everyone. That’s incredibly rare. I love it.”
Ibsen’s Nora is one of the great roles. Still, it’s one Twyford “never really hooked into.” But in preparing to play Hnath’s older Nora, she went back to the source, reading various translations and watching the BBC’s 1992 television production starring Juliet Stevenson as Nora.
“Stevenson’s performance and that particular translation made me realize its power. I see now that I might have missed an opportunity. But that ship has sailed,” she adds with a throaty chuckle.
And Hnath, a Pulitzer finalist for “The Christians,” has done this really interesting thing, she says. The language is modern, funny and amusingly profane – there’s even an eff you from the housekeeper who raised Nora’s children in her absence. And there’s a place where the playwright without using the word “mansplaining” describes mansplaining.
Like so many classic works, Nora and her story are incredibly timely today, Twyford says.
“It’s a fascinating discussion about a woman’s place in the world.”
Directed by Nicole A. Watson, the production is playing at the Lansburgh Theatre, a borrowed venue being used while Round House’s Bethesda home undergoes renovation. The cast also features Nancy Robinette as said unhappy housekeeper; Craig Wallace is Torvald, Nora’s controlling husband; and Kathryn Tkel plays daughter Emmy.
Twyford has been on the D.C. scene since the early ‘90s, and boasts a bio bursting with innumerable parts played in comedies, dramas, classics, new plays and musicals. She ranks among Washington’s most respected actors and has been singled out for four Helen Hayes Awards for divergent performances including Juliet at the Folger, and a Hollywood agent in Signature’s “The Little Dog Laughed.”
Like many other actors with established careers — including Twyford’s out contemporaries Tom Story and Rick Hammerly — she has achieved success in directing too. She made her directorial with No Rules Theatre Company’s 2011 production of “Stop/Kiss,” Diana Son’s powerful play about the after effects of a lesbian-bashing incident.
In September, she’s helming British dramatist Caryl Churchill’s “Escaped Alone” at Signature Theatre. Churchill, whom Twyford counts among her favorite playwrights, is brilliant, she says.
“She presents things that are seemingly mundane but there’s a lot of ‘under rumbling,’ as director Aaron Posner [Twyford’s friend and frequent collaborator] would say, and you hear about that rumbling at some point. At first ‘Escaped’ is about a couple of ladies talking in the back yard and then it becomes much more than that.”