By Zita Lam
How to be a woman in this very world? By reimaging the aftermath of Henrik Ibsen’s original story “A Doll’s House,” Lucas Hnath’s 2017 play “Part 2” continues this significant discussion a hundred years later, on the stage of Seattle Repertory Theatre.
After 15 years Nora Helmer has left the seemingly perfect marriage at the last act of Ibsen’s play, she returns home with a new identity—a pioneer feminist author who advocates new perspectives on women’s role in the 1800s society. Her works that rebel on the male-dominated world have gained her not only the fame and fortune but also enemies. As her “outrage” ideas are rising loud and clear, Nora’s marital status comes to the opponents’ attention. It is not until then she finds out her divorce paper hasn’t been properly processed, which leaves her independence and reputation are at stake.
In “Part 2,” this dialogue-driven plot focuses on the main motive of Nora’s appearance—to get the divorce paper finalized—and it showcases the conflicts among Nora and her ex-husband Torvald, her daughter Emmy, and the family nanny Anne Marie. This 90-minutes play intensively brings up difficult topics behind the humorous lines. During each set where the character’s name is projected on the wall of the once-called-“sweet home”-hollow house, the conversation further reflects the contradiction between the unequal social setting and the freedoms a woman strives for: the freedom to live truly; the freedom to love; and the freedom to be happy.
Instead of living in the lifestyle she isn’t fond of, in the house that she doesn’t belong in, with a man she isn’t attracted to, leaving everything behind to achieve her dreams is definitely a bold move for a married bourgeois woman like Nora. However, her decisions are seen as selfish, irresponsible, and immoral in the society where men are entitled to do such without any consequence. During the negotiation with her family, Nora constantly receives disapproval no matter how hard she has worked to build her career. It’s because in that era, for a woman, failing to meet the expectations as a wife or a mother is worse than having no purpose in life.
Imagine there are always voices inside your head telling you what to do. Years—is how much time Nora takes to live in a complete silence place to finally hear her own’s. Later on in the play, she shows the audience what does it mean to live as one true self. When her marital status becomes a scandal, Nora refuses to use any shortcut to solve the problem. Lies are the thing she can no longer accept to live with although the situation is getting difficult for her. It is the truth she pursues that set her free—free from the fake love in the marriage; free from the fake identity one feels the need to present to the world; free from the fake voices from your head.
The theme of “Part 2” certainly is not easy to take in and it opens many doors to talk about feminism. To conclude this witty yet emotional play, SRT Artistic Director Braden Abraham summarizes it in a precise way. He writes, “Ibsen had no interest in offering solutions to moral difficulties. And like Ibsen, Hnath has no interest in creating heroines or villains or in answering the disquieting questions. Hnath lets each of his flawed but extremely vital characters fo wherever the character’s passion, ideals, and yes selfishness leads—which has always been a good choice for surprising and illuminating theatre.”
A Doll’s House is now playing at Seattle Repertory Theatre through April 28, for more visit https://www.seattlerep.org/