A Doll’s House Parts 1 and 2
- By gentleguide
- On Thu 19 sep 2019
We’ve got a nice long article this week, because Iowa Stage is about to do something very special. The seminal play A Doll’s House was written in 1879, and is one of the most celebrated plays ever created. The sequel, A Doll’s House Part 2, was penned in 2017, earning a Tony award and 8 nominations. Iowa Stage is presenting both plays, in repertory, beginning Friday September 27 at the Stoner Studio Theatre inside the Civic Center.
Iowa Stage is only the second theatre ever to present these shows this way. And honestly, they were the first one to announce they were doing so. Denver’s Center for Performing Arts then scheduled their performances for two weeks earlier, stealing a bit of Des Moines’ thunder! But that doesn’t diminish the impact of these productions, both the original show and the groundbreaking sequel.
A Doll’s House was written by Henrik Ibsen, and is an examination of a woman and society’s expectations of her position at the time. Women in that era were not given the opportunity or encouragement to be self-sufficient, let alone live fulfilling lives. The controversial notion of a woman (played by Tiffany Flory in the first play and Kerry Skram in the second) actually rebelling against her “doll’s house existence” was almost unheard of, and led to both packed houses and significant cultural outrage (and even a re-written ending, to satisfy those offended. Fortunately, the original ending has been restored….)
Flory has discovered that not much has really changed in the way women often have to behave in a “socially acceptable” manner, even after a century has passed since the play was written. “In A Doll's House, it specifically points out how one woman, Nora, knows she has to act a certain way with her husband, and you'll find in our performance that Nora has many faces depending on who she is talking to. She even describes to her friend that [her husband Torvald] enjoys watching her, ‘skipping about, and dressing up, and acting.’ And then there is the significance of the title. Nora's house is, in fact, a doll's house, where her husband worries about the business and ‘plays’ with Nora when he wants to. And in the same way, she plays with her children by dressing them up and doting on them because that is how it is done.”
“What speaks to me the most is that element of putting on ‘different faces’ for different people. How we act one way when we are comfortable at home, and others when we are out with friends. You may even act one way with a boss, but very differently with your other co-workers. So what version is the real version of you? By the end of the play, Nora realizes that she doesn't even know herself, and that is the driving force that leads her to want to figure things out for herself, instead of hearing opinions of others and accepting them as her own in ignorance. Don't we all listen to the news, or certain blogs, or even Facebook for our opinions sometimes? Maybe everyone should take some time to decide things for themselves instead of allowing outside influences to determine your own values and morals.”
Sequel or Commentary?
A Doll’s House Part 2 premiered on Broadway in 2017. Authored by award-winning playwright Lucas Hnath, the new play finds Nora and the other characters 15 years after the end of Ibsen’s story. Nora’s circumstances through the intervening years have brought forth a new confrontation, and an examination of her original choices.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2 is not a play that was written to tell us what happened to all of the characters in A Doll’s House fifteen years later,” says Kerry Skram. “It’s a wonderful set-up to talk about and to debate ideas. What does marriage mean to you? Was marriage just a cruel and binding contract that limited women and gave them little opportunity, or could it be a partnership created by two people to move through life together? Is there any justification for why Nora left? And left not just her husband, but her children? How much has changed for women in the last decade? I promise you, this play will spark a lot of conversations.”
Jodi Jinks is the director for A Doll’s House Part 2, and loves how author Hnath gets to examine the ages-old question of gender roles and expectations. “The stage is a HUGE mirror and a place to generate dialogue. Lucas Hnath has written a brilliant piece that throws this issue right back in our faces, 150 years later, to evaluate or reevaluate gender politics, love, responsibility, society, cultural norms, power, what it takes to be happy, how to be with people.”
Side by Side
From a technical point of view, the presentation of A Doll’s House and A Doll’s House Part 2 in repertory means a single set has been built, and significantly redressed to denote the passage of years between the two shows. Jinks explains some of the work both teams have done, at least in a limited way, to relate the shows to each other.
“Jennifer [Nostrala, director of A Doll’s House] and I have talked a bit about staging. That is actually something I hope to do quite soon--watch one of their rehearsals and see about character behavior that I might use in A Doll’s House Part 2! I have watched the choreography of the Tarantella dance that Tiffany is doing so that Kerry can duplicate some of her moves.”
Skram has also looked in on the other production, to help inform her own portrayal. “Tiffany and I aren’t comparing notes, necessarily, but she and I talk. I did sit in on the cast table-reading of A Doll’s House, and I was able to watch their last act during a run-through they had the other night. I’ve also walked their full set, which helps inform me as Nora when I come back and see the state of the house fifteen years later. Listening to their read through and watching them perform certainly helps remind me what Nora and Torvald’s marriage was like, all of the planning that Nora was doing, and ultimately why Nora left. Lucas Hanth’s script is really quite brilliant, and you can certainly see A Doll’s House Part 2 without having seen A Doll’s House, but I think see A Doll’s House would certainly enhance your viewing of Part 2.”
How Far We’ve Come, How Far to Go?
The most amazing part of A Doll’s House isn’t that the subject matter was controversial for its time. It’s that we still have such a need for it today, well over a century later. Jinks notes, “We continue to live in a country where women are paid less than men for the same work, where staying home to raise children is not valued as highly as going to work outside of the home, where women must fight to have control over their own uteruses, where a woman's physical beauty is often the subject of conversation, not what she contributes to the world, where the president of our country publicly declares that he can "grab them by the pussy," so I feel that gender politics in the U.S. of A continues to be a worthy topic.”
Jinks continues this idea, just as Part 2 continues with the ideas of the original. “A Doll’s House Part 2 addresses this subject in a contemporary vernacular with contemporary examples, even though it is ‘set’ only 15 years after A Doll’s House occurs. The fact that Hnath repeatedly mentions how the world will be different in 20 to 30 years implies to me that it has taken far too long for the issues discussed in the 1870's in A Doll's House to be adequately addressed! I feel it is an important piece to see currently for just this reason: equal rights for women have not yet been achieved.
Nostrala takes up the thought. “A Doll’s House is a classic play, but that isn't why people should come to see it. Rather they should come to see it because it speaks to our human condition and our desire to be seen, heard, and taken seriously. While there have been changes in societal roles since Ibsen's play was first performed, we still have further to go in creating gender equity in society. Through the rehearsal process I have been struck by how familiar some of the lines feel in regards to Nora not being taken seriously.”
“When you have something so pivotal to theatre history,” says Flory, “it's amazing to see how much it still rings true today. It doesn't answer the questions about what is right and wrong, but dares you to ask the question yourself and then reflect on your own views. Even 15 years later, with A Doll's House Part 2, there are lots of questions being asked, and every character has a solid argument for why they were right and the other is wrong and nothing is 100% solved. These productions will leave you with questions that will make great conversation starters when you get drinks after the shows.”
A Doll’s House and A Doll’s House Part 2 are presented in repertory beginning Friday September 27 at the Stoner Studio Theatre. There are three days during the run when you can actually see both shows on the same day, with a matinee of A Doll’s House and an evening showing of A Doll’s House Part 2. You can check the Gentle Guide calendar or the Iowa Stage website for the dates for all performances. Tickets are available through that same Iowa Stage website or through the Civic Center website.