A Doll's House

Jessica Chastain & Jamie Lloyd on Seeing A Doll’s House in a New Light

Several years ago, the celebrated British stage director Jamie Lloyd was meeting with a certain film star who had also been applauded for work in his field, and he posed a question to her. “Jamie asked me, ‘Why aren’t you doing theater right now?’” remembers Jessica Chastain. “And I said, ‘Oh, I get really nervous.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no—let’s have lunch.’”

Thus, the seeds were planted for Chastain’s return to Broadway, in Lloyd’s new take on A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen’s enduringly potent account of a housewife who tires of that role. Set to begin previews February 13 and open March 9 at the Hudson Theatre, the production features a freshly adapted text by the Obie Award–winning playwright Amy Herzog, who previously worked with the Oscar-winning actress on Scenes From a Marriage as a writer and executive producer.

Lloyd, who has drawn praise for his explosive reimaginings of classics, ranging from Cyrano de Bergerac to Betrayal, had originally arranged to stage this Doll’s House in London a few years ago. Then the pandemic arrived “and the world changed,” he muses. “But I kept talking with Jessica, and she was fully committed, from 2020 onward. And then it felt like the right moment to do it here in New York. Part of it was about walking around the shuttered Theatre District and feeling like she wanted to be a part of the return to theater in her hometown.”

Chastain, who got her start in theater, admits that the part of Nora Helmer, the protagonist of Ibsen’s masterwork, wasn’t on her bucket list, at least not initially. As a student at Juilliard, she says, she preferred the “angstier” work of August Strindberg; the actress later played the title role in a film adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie written and directed by Liv Ullmann, who starred in a 1975 revival of A Doll’s House. “But I think as I’ve matured, I found A Doll’s House in a new way, and I’m really excited to tell this story—especially with Amy Herzog’s interpretation.”

Herzog’s name had come up while Lloyd was sifting through different adaptations of the play. “Jamie knew her work and loved her,” Chastain says. “We were emailing a lot over the course of the pandemic, and one day he said, ‘The more time away we’ve had, the more I’ve realized we need a female voice on this. I think we need a new adaptation.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m working with Amy Herzog right now.’ And he was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It felt like she was the dream person to write this.”

Part of Lloyd’s goal is to present Nora, one of the most iconic roles in drama, as a “complex human being,” he says. “A Doll’s House is obviously a hugely political play, and its impact is fully felt today. But I’m also interested in exploring it as a psychological play—exploring all of these characters in their complexity.” That will involve, as fans of the director’s previous work might expect, “clearing away period costumes and props and sets. I don’t want to add anything that might diminish the connection between the people onstage and the people in the auditorium. It’s asking the audience to kind of be coauthors; we’re really trying to engage their imagination, so that they can take the experience inside them. The aspiration is that they might learn something about themselves, and we all might learn something about each other in the act of watching this play together.”

For Chastain, who describes herself as a naturally political artist—“I look at art as a way of creating change or asking questions that can make people uncomfortable,” she says—the challenge in playing Nora lies in “making her complicit. It’s not like she’s just a victim. The reality is that Nora participates in this world that has been created. I think about how women are valued, even today. Are they valued for their thoughts and ideas, or for how pleasing they look, how pleasing their voice sounds? We’re stuck in the same game, albeit on a different level than Nora. We’ve all participated in these rules. What happens if we say, ‘OK, I’m done now?’ That makes the play very modern.”

Lloyd notes that Chastain’s work in rehearsals has been “overwhelming, beyond any expectation. She’s so open, so up for trying different options as we investigate and explore ideas. The fact that she’s so free, so able to do that with such confidence and dexterity and specificity and real emotional truth, is astounding. She’s a remarkable artist.”

Chastain is equally effusive about her director. “When I started out, I would read about Peter Brook, about his theater companies and the incredible things he would create. And I was just saying today that I feel like I’m getting an understanding of what that must have been like in working with Jamie Lloyd. I feel very protected and cared for, and in that environment I can try anything. I owe so much to Jamie, because I’ve really, really missed doing theater, and I’m so glad he convinced me to come back.”

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