By Janet Allen, Executive Artistic Director
Artists have been responding to classic works and creating sequels for eons, and yet it’s rare to encounter one where the sequel is every bit as thrilling and groundbreaking as the original. Thus is the case with A Doll’s House, Part 2, and one need look no farther than the listings of the regional theatres’ bills this season to see that many theatre professionals share that belief. The wonderful irony of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is that Lucas Hnath has fashioned a sequel that does not need its original to exist completely and wholly. He accomplishes that feat with ease and style, weaving the backstory of the characters into the forward movement of his new plot with apparent effortlessness. The accolade “expertly crafted” appears in many reviews, and is completely apparent in this play.
The play Hnath has responded to is an 1879 drama by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. At the time, A Doll’s House was groundbreaking enough to be banned in several countries; but it has since come to be taught and admired as the cornerstone of modern drama. In 2001, it was inscribed as a manuscript of historic value by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. In 2006, which marked the 100th anniversary of Ibsen’s death, it was the most produced play around the world.
A Doll’s House is revered among theatre professionals, feminists, and champions of social justice. Its ending is its claim to fame: Nora Helmer shockingly leaves her husband and young children to pursue a life of self-fulfillment, escaping the stifling confines of her gender role in late 19th century culture. Of course, this choice was considered horrifically controversial in its time. “The door slam heard around the world,” which signifies Nora’s departure from home and hearth and from gender stereotypes, has engendered many adaptations and revisions, but no successful sequels until this 2017 play by American Lucas Hnath.
Hnath’s play is loyal to the characters of the original and keeps the period setting, but uses a contemporary language idiom; this fusion creates a freshness that both surprises and leads us further into his purpose. In something like a four-handed fugue, he invites each of the characters to express their viewpoint on the problematic situation that brings them together; these varying perspectives are at once character cogent and also astonishing. Part legal thriller, part family drama, part exploration of gender roles both past and present, this play delivers much to discuss, as well as a superb experience in the theatre.
I am not a big fan of sequels, so much so that I declined several opportunities to see this on Broadway last season and didn’t read the reviews. But when the script was in my hand, I couldn’t put it down, and I was wholeheartedly committed to sharing it with our audiences from the minute I finished reading it.
One of the greatest delights of my job is being surprised—by audiences, by writers, by actors—but I wasn’t surprised by the amazing actors that clamored to be in this production. We are delighted to have brought them together on this wildly entertaining and thought-provoking work. Enjoy the ride.
The IRT produces top-quality, professional theatre that engages, surprises, challenges and entertains people throughout their lifetimes, helping to build a vital and vibrant community.
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