Nora’s Children are Millennial Artists in A DOLLS HOUSE, PART 3

Photo courtesy of Michael + Patrick

Don’t expect Nora to come knocking in this sequel.

She already did that in A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath’s splashy Broadway debut that served as a follow-up to Ibsen’s classic. But now in A Doll’s House, Part 3 (running as part of the Exponential Festival through January 13) Nora’s children — a trio of hilariously petulant and self-obsessed artist-wannabees — are left flailing with too much idle time and not enough success in this new dance-infused theatrical experience created and performed by Michael + Patrick. (Like most notable duos, the surnames are superfluous, but since they’re not quite Sonny and Cher their last names are Breslin and Foley, respectively.) 

A Doll’s House, Part 3 debuted last year in Ars Nova’s Ant Fest, but now Nora’s tweenage children — Ivar (Foley), Bob (Breslin), and Emmy (Anna Crivelli) — hop across the East River to perform at Triskelion Arts in Greenpoint. While clear-eyed in its roasting of the new play developmental process — that multistep, multi-grant workshopping tilt-a-whirl that maybe, maybe leads to production — Part 3 is murkier on plot, which seems intentional. Must new plays have one? A Doll’s House had one, and Part 2 was a meandering discussion of ideas. But in Part 3, any semblance of narrative might be summed up as Ivar envisions, Bob choreographs, and Emmy can’t keep up.

Stuck at home, the siblings create homemade videos featuring tarantella dances, ASMR, and raps that revere their absent mother in delusional attempts to prove their significance and show how hard it is to be “famous” children. Meanwhile, Content Kween (the droll Catherine María Rodíguez) applies makeup and delivers quippy beauty tips in self-filmed YouTube tutorials, serving as a backdrop to what the TV-binging Helmer children might absorb in our digital era. “In my house,” Bob assures us, “content is kween.”

Just as Nora has evolved in each of Ibsen’s subsequent iterations, so — Michael + Patrick might argue — should theater. If A Doll’s House paved the way for naturalism and A Doll’s House, Part 2 exemplified contemporary realism with a light theatrical touch, this sequel-to-the-sequel pushes theater as a medium ever-daringly forward once more: A Doll’s House, Part 3 is experimental, bonkers, and delightful. There are no plot points tied up with bows, no rug-pulling reveals, and no ideas grappled with besides the making of plays and whether being ItalianX makes you a person of color. (It doesn’t, even if Ivar spent his “formative years” as Nora and Torvalt’s then-only child basking in the Tuscan sun.)

Watching this show, I was reminded of Rob Onorato’s viral and searing HowlRound essay, “Against the New Play.” Like Onorato, Michael + Patrick seem to be rebelling against the theater’s ruling class: kitchen sink dramas, heady idea plays, and — worst of all — amusement park attractions masquerading as Broadway musicals. And so Michael + Patrick have created something else, something other. 

Theater exercises kinetic energy — to drive change, pop culture, and sales — but its potential energy, to harness the hope and fluidity of surprising new forms and unexplored genres, is often squashed by the mainstream dramas our cultural diets consume and regurgitate. Shows that behave irregularly exist on the fringes; any train can take you into Manhattan, commercial Broadway’s home, but the sole subway line that can’t — the ever-elusive and finicky G — transports you to A Doll’s House, Part 3. It’s certainly worth the ride to the box-of-chocolates Exponential Festival where stronger pieces like Part 3 beg and insist, What unknown forms can theater manifest?

Late in the play, Emmy reveals that she sold her mother’s rights to a pony-tailed visitor (Mr. Hnath?) to secretly fund the Helmers’ sodastream, cameras, and other high-tech appliances. Performance art won’t pay for itself, after all, and these kids are trying to change theater. Ivar then tosses carrots into a new blender with no idea where it came from, but it still transforms the veggies into a vibrant purée.

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