Over the past dozen years, Broadway audiences have seen Arian Moayed lend his talents to acclaimed contemporary dramas, from Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which earned Moayed a Tony Award nomination, to Stephen Karam’s The Humans. This season, though, the actor is taking on a 144-year-old classic—albeit with a director known for shaking things up when approaching canonical works.
Moayed is cast as Torvald Helmer, the famously patronizing husband of Henrik Ibsen’s iconic heroine Nora Helmer, in Jamie Lloyd’s new production of A Doll’s House, scheduled to begin previews February 13 and open March 9 at the Hudson Theatre. When approached by Lloyd, Moayed—who’s also admired for his screen work, with recent credits including an Emmy-nominated performance on HBO’s Succession and Netflix’s Inventing Anna— admits he “didn’t have a big relationship with the play.” But he was eager to work with Lloyd, having seen the director’s bracing interpretation of Betrayal, “which I really loved,” and heard about his incendiary take on Cyrano de Bergerac, which earned praise in London and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
A writer and director in his own right, Moayed is cofounder of Waterwell, a nonprofit art and education company that seeks to produce civic-minded and socially conscious work. He felt an affinity with Lloyd, whose own Jamie Lloyd Company “has been making accessible theater happen on the West End for 10 years. And then all these pieces came together and made it feel like the right thing,” Moayed says.
Those pieces include the new adaptation of A Doll’s House that Lloyd commissioned from Amy Herzog, an Obie Award–winning playwright whom Moayed had collaborated with more than a decade ago. “I’ve always wanted to work with her again. And I think what’s remarkable about this play, and what Amy’s done with it, is that it speaks to the micro-cuts that men put on women constantly, sometimes without even realizing they’re doing it—those micro-incisions that are obviously based in generations of male domination.”
Torvald’s condescending treatment of Nora—played here by Oscar winner Jessica Chastain—resonated particularly with Moayed as an Iranian American who emigrated with his family as a young child less than a decade after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. “In Iranian culture, the mother is the most dominant figure in the household. If you remove what you’ve seen over the past 40-odd years, it’s a society that really respects women. So the play speaks to me with regard to my own mother, an Iranian woman who had so many of her choices stripped away with the revolution.”
Moayed was also struck by “how relevant the play is to what’s going on in Iran right now. You can be Iranian and this play will talk to you. Or you could be Missourian, or thinking of Roe v. Wade, and the play will talk to you. I thought, ‘This is a necessary thing.’”
At the same time, the actor is keen not to make his Torvald a caricature: “Not knowing too much about other productions, I can imagine that in playing him, there can be a lot of twirling of the moustache, representing him as an evil guy.” Lloyd’s direction, he notes, has steered clear of that approach. “What’s amazing about Jamie is that he’s interested in complicated truths. I think people are going to be surprised by all the characters in the play, how human and vulnerable and awful they all are.”
Lloyd’s strategy of having the actors wear conspicuous microphones enhances those qualities, Moayed says. “There are numerous moments where Jess and I will be playing a scene very intimately, eyeball to eyeball, and without the technology of these new mics, we’d still have to shout to the back row. But in this version, we can whisper—you can actually hear our breath. That allows us to be more ourselves, in a way, without worrying whether people will hear us. It leads to what I’d describe as a sort of unveiling of the soul.”
This Doll’s House marks Moayed’s first Broadway production since he completed his run in 2016’s Humans. He has acted Off-Broadway and on the London stage since, but notes, “What I love about Broadway is the reach. If you can find a show that works on an interpersonal level, a global level and a spiritual level—which is what I try to do in all my work—there’s real potential to reach a lot of people’s minds. That’s the best part, I think.”
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