Seattle Rep’s A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 – Beyond the Theater

Have you ever wondered what became of a beloved or engaging literary character after the last page turns, or the curtain falls? What happens next? In his award-winning play A Doll’s House, Part 2 – playing at the Seattle Repertory Theater from March 15 to April 28, 2019 – Lucas Hnath applies this curiosity to one of the most startling and provocative endings in all of theater, when Nora Helmer walks out on her husband and family in Henrik Ibsen’s epochal 1879 play A Doll’s House, slamming the door behind her.

Hnath isn’t the first contemporary author to imagine sequels to classic titles.  P.D. James threw a homicidal wrench in the happily-ever-after ending of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with her period mystery Death Comes to Pemberley. Eoin Colfer took a suitably irreverent approach to his hilarious sequel And Another Thing: Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Part Six of Three. In cases where everybody dies at the end, there’s always the prequel, such as with John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius, which provides a more sympathetic take on Hamlet’s mother and father-in-law to be, or Jean Rhys classic Wide Sargasso Sea, a post-colonial prequel to Jane Eyre which explores the life of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘madwoman in the attic,’ prior to her life in England as Bertha.

Hedwig Niemann-Raabe, the German Nora who refused to leave her family

Still, there’s something about the abrupt, open-ended ending to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that invites speculation about how things might wind up after the curtain goes down, or if things had gone a different way. In fact, this is not the first time time the play has been revamped. Nora’s final act was so controversial that when the play finally appeared on stage outside of Norway, the leading actress refused to walk out on her family, obliging Ibsen to write a new ending in which Nora decides to and stay, sinking to the floor in tears at the thought she would leave her children “Motherless! Motherless!” Popular Victorian playwright Henry Arthur Jones staged Breaking a Butterfly, a decidedly melodramatic bizarro version of the play in which the wife is a silly thing, and the husband a hero. And then there was Eleanor Marx, the pioneering feminist daughter of Karl Marx who championed Ibsen, and co-wrote (with Israel Zangwill) a own sequel to A Doll’s House – A Doll’s House Repaired  – which ends with Torvald slamming the bedroom door on a contrite Nora.

Eleanor Marx, who brought Nora back home

Both parts of A Doll’s House remain timely and provocative, inviting discussion and further reading. Check our our full list of recommended reading to enhance and extend your experience of Hnath’s and Ibsen’s plays. Here you’ll find filmed versions of A Doll’s House, histories of marriage and of the feminist pursuit of happiness; and various tales of ‘unruly women,’ both fictional and factual.

    ~ Posted by David W.