Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Lucas Hnath

A Doll’s House-Part 2 – Unexpected


Fifteen years ago, stifled and condescended to, Nora Helmer walked out on husband Torvald and her three children in search of self respect and self knowledge. She entered a world that would have been hostile to her. The heroine that marches back through a forbiddingly enormous portal is wealthy, independent, creative, self confident and sexually liberated. Though actors wear appropriate period costumes (well designed by David Zinn) and legal constraints are accurate, language is contemporary. Go with it; it works.

Nora (Laurie Metcalf) now writes women’s books – under a pseudonym. Her cry for freedom is so convincing that numbers of readers have left their husbands. One abandoned, bitter spouse, a powerful judge, tracks down the author and discovers that she’s still married. (Nora was sure Torvald had, as agreed, divorced her.) Conducting business as a single woman is illegal, misrepresenting herself in print will mean ruin, her behavior if married, has been blatantly immoral. The official threatens exposure unless she publicly apologizes assuring the loss of everything she’s built.


Jayne Houdyshell and Laurie Metcalf

Apparently a one-step request for men, divorce saddles women with an endless burden of reasonable proof. Nora has returned to secure a decree to which she’s sure there can be no objection. If she’s forced to bring suit, both party’s reputations will irreparably suffer. Still, Torvald flatly refuses.

Revolving around the character in lesser and greater orbits are housekeeper Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), a sympathetic confidant in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House who’s stayed on to raise the children and take care of Torvald; grown-up, admirably well adjusted daughter Emmy (Condola Rashad), appealed to as a last resort in hopes of convincing her father to cooperate, and Torvald himself (Chris Cooper) who, still wounded, finds Nora unfathomable.


Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf

Playwright Lucas Hnath has utilized the Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as a starting point/inspiration and spun it into an entertaining tale with social context in two contrasting eras. Nora finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. Disagreement with Emily about the nature of a woman’s role in marriage puts each choice in context. Characters have no filters. What they think and feel comes out of their mouths with directness that belies the period, but makes whopping good theater. Everyone is multidimensional. Allegiances are complicated. Unpredictable changes become seismic before our eyes. The ending is a shock.

Jayne Houdyshell’s Anne Marie is a whole human being. The character organically shifts from welcoming to protective. She’s watchful, sympathetic, innately funny with opinion and observance, and bone tired. In the hands of a lesser actress, the role could have been played for laughs or subjugated judgment. This artist has understanding and finesse.


Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad

As Emmy, Condola Rashad represents a girl raised in the atmosphere Nora has fled, yet securely flowering. Her femininity – she’s quite graceful, soft voice, and exhaled thoughts tumbling together in a rush – effectively differ from that of her mother. Rashad brings youthful brightness and optimism to an otherwise dour stage.

Torvald is a challenge to illuminate, as repressed, he expresses himself less. (Body language is eloquent.) Chris Cooper allows us to see the agonized husband host a wrestling match between unresolved feelings and lifelong thinking. Anger, stress, puzzlement, and longing color controlled, patrician behavior.

Laurie Metcalf’s Nora is extremely masculine in the way she moves and sits. Wild, emphatically punctuating gestures indicate physicality inappropriate to the 1900s, but fitting to this libertarian. Metcalf spits fire. Determination, then resolve are both palpable. The actress is especially fine when speaking out at the stage apron without breaking a fourth wall.

couple floor

Laurie Metcalf and Chris Cooper

I hated what Sam Gold did with The Glass Menagerie and was hesitant to check out this next effort, but am decidedly glad I did. The director utilizes every bit of his empty stage without causing characters to appear unnatural as they circle or unspool. With only four chairs, where each is dragged and the level at which a character sits (including the floor) becomes telling. A hand on a knee and one reaching across the floor both resonate without advertising. We clock visible differences between thinking and instinct. (At one exquisite point, Nora crawls to Torvald.)

Keeping with Gold’s less is more vision, Miriam Buether’s Scenery has been kept to a few chairs and large, title lights naming each character’s turn. It’s gimmicky, but the play more than makes up for it.

Photos by Brigitte Lacombe
Opening: Laurie Metcalf; Jayne Houdyshell

A Doll’s House-Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Sam Gold
Golden Theatre
252 West 54th Street
Through July 23, 2017

Caroline Clay – Keeping the Faith in The Christians


What if there is no hell? As a Christian, how would that revelation shake the foundation of your faith?

In The Christians, the pastor of a megachurch delivers a sermon that stuns his congregation and leads to much soul searching among his followers. “I don’t believe in hell so I was very much in alignment with that,” said Caroline Stefanie Clay, who plays the pastor’s wife, Elizabeth, a woman shaken by her husband’s pronouncement. “For the 90 minutes that this play exists, I have to believe in Elizabeth and in her belief system. And it’s a pleasure. That’s why we become actors, to inhabit experiences close to our own and completely foreign from what we know.”

Although the playwright, Lucas Hnath, grew up in an evangelical church, he has refrained from talking about his own beliefs, leaving it up to the audiences to carry on those discussions. The play had its New York premiere last fall at Playwrights Horizon. The Washington, D.C. premiere, directed by Gregg Henry, will be presented at Theater J from November 16 through December 11. The production includes a gospel chorus, and through the efforts of Artistic Director Adam Immwewahr, top choirs from the D.C. area will participate. “I love what Adam’s doing,” said Caroline. “I can’t think of a better way of engaging the community than by bringing in a new choir for every performance.”


Caroline, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, grew up in Washington, D.C., “a proud product of the D.C. public school system.” She attended Lafayette Elementary, Alice Deal Middle School, and in tenth grade auditioned for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where she now teaches as an artist in residence. After high school, she went to the University of the Arts In Philadelphia. “Philly is a great theater town,” she said, describing the city as “faster than D.C., but not quite as fast as New York, a great in between place. That’s really where I got my professional feet wet.” She appeared in a production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, alongside several New York-based actors, who encouraged her to move to the Big Apple. “That’s where I would make my artistic home for the next 20 years,” she said.

In 2010, her mother became ill and Caroline made the decision to move back to D.C.  “The healing powers of the returning child,” she said, with a laugh. “My mother is now doing much, much better.” While Caroline was prepared to put her career on hold, determined to place her mother first, she didn’t have to make a choice. “My agent said that family is first so do whatever you have to do and know that you’re not risking losing representation, which is often very real for actors,” she said. “I’ve had so many examples of this in my life, in people believing and seeing things In me that I have not even seen for myself. That in so many ways is the definition of grace.”

Caroline was accepted into an MFA program at the University of Maryland. “They were looking for people who literally had had a professional career and were now at a transition where they wanted to consider something new,” she said. “Up to that point I had done what most actors do. My agent calls me, I go and audition, I book the gig. That’s where I was able to build my resume, my technique, all of those kinds of things. But as I became older, I became more conscious, not just as an artist, but as an artist of color, about not seeing my voice represented in ways that I would do it. I had to really take agency and say, `wait a minute! I’ve got to be that voice that I am not hearing.’ I have no problem identifying the void. What am I doing to fill it?”

Once she began writing her own work, Caroline found that a whole new world opened up to her. “I knew that my life as an artist was not based on my agent calling,” she said. “I could create my own work. In many ways I am still working within an institutional system of artistic directors, managing directors, and producers, but the more that I could generate for myself, the more that I would never be sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. That was so freeing as an artist and it’s really been fostered in this area in a way, that I really have to say, it wasn’t fostered in New York, because in New York I simply didn’t have the time.”

So far, Caroline has created two one-woman shows. “I pride myself that when I write my pieces, the subject matter is usually what I call `unsung heroes,’ the people that you haven’t heard of,” she said. Sepia Sculptress – The Life and Times of Edmonia Lewis is about a 19th century African American and Native America sculptor, who was born on a Canadian reservation, went to Oberlin College, and lived mostly abroad, including many years in Rome. “She has left behind amazing sculptures of abolitionist, historical figures, and she was amazing,” Caroline said. “But you don’t see a coffee table book with her work.”


Caroline in Sense and Sensibility at Folger Shakespeare Theatre 

Another such person is Florynce Kennedy, an attorney, activist, civil rights advocate, lecturer, and feminist. Caroline was watching an HBO documentary about Gloria Steinem when the camera caught security guards battling with a woman who was saying, “get your hands off me.” That woman was Florynce, and Caroline’s interest was piqued. “I was captivated,” she said. “I had to know everything about her.” The piece, Let it Flo! The Life and Times of Flo Kennedy, Radicalism’s Rudest Mouth, became Caroline’s dissertation. Steinem has seen the show and, according to Caroline, has been “an amazing advocate and patron of the work.” Caroline will premiere the show on February 17 in New York.

Caroline, who was an understudy for the Broadway production of Doubt, won the Helen Hayes Award, Best Supporting Actress, for her performance at the National Theatre. Right now, her plate is very full. Until November 13, she’s appearing in Sense and Sensibility at Folger Shakespeare Theater. Performances for The Christians will begin on November 16 and when we spoke, the cast was beginning rehearsals. She’s excited about the opportunity to work with Gregg Henry. “I’m so glad that Theater J has taken on [The Christians],” she said. “What I love is that Greg and the artistic team made no assumptions about any of our own spiritual proclivities.” Caroline said she will be listening to a podcast about a pastor who actually had the revelation that there is no hell and paid a dear price for that belief. “He questioned the nature of the dogma that they have been taught,” she said. “That is the essence of great drama. Talk about conflict!”

The  Christians
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Gregg Henry
Theater J
The Edlavitch DCJCC’s Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater
1529 16th Street, NW

Top Photo: Courtesy of Theater J
The Christians – Illustration by Donald Ely
Sense and Sensibility photo by Teresa Wood