By the time this afternoon rolled around I had checked off everything on my week’s errand list. I found myself with an afternoon of freedom. On this afternoon to spare – I immediately retraced my steps to a theatre I’d passed a few times on my walks about Toronto. I remembered that I’d seen a production of A Doll’s House Part 2 was playing at the Mirvish – CAA Theatre on Yonge. There was indeed a matinee and I did indeed attend. I will now retrace some of my thoughts about the play I saw.
This play is first and foremost about a woman named Nora.
Nora is a character who has been re-imagined from an old Henrik Ibsen play called, A Doll’s House. A famous feminist play about a woman who walks out on her family because she does not want to feel like someone’s possession anymore and has lost faith in marriage.
Ibsen’s play is confusing and the controversial topics tend to leave unanswered questions within the minds and hearts of the audience. Whenever I’ve been in a theatre classroom, or with actor friends, I’ve always said, “in my mind Nora takes the kids!” or “if the play was written by a woman Nora would have taken the children?” My instinctual comments are usually met with a very thoughtful pause, after I say that, and the conversation tends to stop and we usually move on to another topic because there is no real answer to my question. After all, the play has already been written!
I guess that’s the whole point. Nora removes herself from the equation and slams the door so that she can work on her own health and well being. The play is meant to let us wonder about why and how her decision came to be. Further, how it makes us feel that convention has been shattered by a woman and a mother.
Now, part two of the play, written by Lucas Hnath, is about Nora’s return.
Nora returns in her own clothes and with her own thoughts after shedding her husband Torvold’s clothes and thoughts fifteen years before. Nora returns as a writer by profession. The plot revolves around Nora’s return because her subsequent experiences in the world forced her return in order to beg for the maintenance of her own independence. In this play Nora negotiates her way through relationships, answers to her past, and grapples with how she can shape her future without slamming the door once more. The characters pose options at each other; desperately looking for ways to move forward without needing to hang onto the past. They all want a choice; but can no longer control each other’s choices.
The stark difference about the new play is that, whereas we saw Nora is crisis mode before slamming the door in A Doll’s House, we now see her in repair mode upon her return. The characters claim to have all moved on emotionally; but they still find that they need each other in order to maintain everyone’s independence or ability to move forward. The daughter wants to get to married, the parents may need a divorce, the house-keeper wants peace. None of the characters can be granted their wishes unless they work it out with each other. Their collective actions, spilled out into a transparent room, have resulted in everyone wondering how to make the rules written outside the doors reflect how each of them feels on the inside?
Hnath’s play contains dialogue that seems to keep moving forward steadily and roll over the past. The language is very contemporary and is also one of the stark changes that is noticeable in comparison to Ibsen’s classical play. Despite the tonal shift that results; the language leads the actors into emotional bouts as well as quiet and contemplative moments.
I attended a discussion after the play. The theatre and two actors were generous enough to extend their voices and time for a few questions. We spoke with Kate Hennig (playing Anne-Marie – the housekeeper who ends up raising Nora’s children after she leaves); and Bahareh Yaraghi (playing Emmy – the grown up daughter of Nora and Torvald).
I asked whether, in having performed the play and worked on these characters, the two women have experienced any changes or alterations in how they view the role of women.
Both actresses suggested that playing their roles have increased the respect they have for all women. Hennig further recommended reading that is informative of the society from which all the characters in this play originally sprang from (Emma Goldman – a controversial female writer and extreme activist who played a role in shaping the feminist ideas and movements that Ibsen wrote about in his play). These feminist concepts and ideas are all still being played with today as evidenced by Hnath’s play. It seems that women’s roles and the ability to create equality between the sexes is still relevant.
I left the theatre asking myself if I’ll ever understand what this all really means; and what I even want it all to mean? Does freedom mean being single and female – strong and self-sufficient – or does freedom really have to do with loving relationships that allow you to feel and be equal? I’m feeling that it might be a bit of a balance among extremes – and that is exactly what the character’s in Hnath’s play were saying to each other all along. What do you want? How can I help? What will make this better? Why can’t we figure it out? Why am I so angry now? What would equal even look like? Do we really have to talk about it? And now that we’ve got all this collateral damage what would mend our future? All the characters, ironically, also imply, “I still love you” for some reason.
Unlike the feminist issues the character’s grapple with; the set is very simple. There were light grey walls and very tall doors that let in light when opened to let people in or out of the room. From afar the whole set resembles a room in a children’s doll house. The only furniture are the three chairs that are moved about the room often. A simple, light, white wooden chair and two heavier, twin chairs covered with red fabric. In fact, on this set, all the characters tend to resemble dolls next to those tall grey doors and moving chairs, and under the bright lights. It almost felt like being a Charles Dickens novel where I got to feel like an omnipresent stranger, peering in and trying to discover and unlock the secrets hidden in another set of hearts.
The more I see in the theatre I feel that I become more enlightened about other people and about myself. I definitely haven’t left this play with any clear answers about feminism or the equality of the sexes; but it did make me spend more time on these thoughts. I have four brothers and we’ve actually had conversations about what the difference is between us without ever resolving on any clear answers either – except that we’re all human beings. I did, however, leave the play with more resolve to work at raising women’s voices and views. Step one was putting my own voice out into the universe. And look at that – I couldn’t separate my own voice from thoughts about my family?
Until my next post…. signing off… INSPIRED again!