When Nora walks through the door at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” audiences wonder if she’ll ever return to her husband and children. First created in the late 1800s, the piece defied the expectations of women in 19th century society. Although in some respects we have come a long way since then, in other respects we still have a long way to go.
This makes it an especially powerful time to watch Lucas Hnath’s 2017 play “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which is performed at Quogue Community Hall by the Hampton Theater Company from May 26 to June 12.
When the door slams on Norway in 1879 in Ibsen’s play, a young wife and mother leaves her family behind, freeing herself from the shackles of societal constraints. Now Hnath takes us back to the stage 15 years later, and her play opens with Nora returning through that door with an awkward favor to ask the people she left behind.
“It was a bold move on the playwright’s part,” said George Loizides, who is directing the upcoming performance. “The idea that he could build a room called ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ was outrageous.”
And yet, when it made its Broadway debut a few years ago, it received critical acclaim. For audiences unfamiliar with Ibsen’s play, there is no need to have seen the first to understand the second. The characters, which include Nora, her husband, her daughter and the governess, speak for themselves. With intense dialogue, the tension created by Nora’s choice to leave is clear from the start.
What Loizides finds most compelling in Hnath’s play is that there is no villain. Even in a situation like this, where a woman could easily be vilified for leaving her family, humanity and compassion come through.
“Each character walks into this room with their own take on what Nora did on the way out,” Loizides said. “What she created when she got out. Nobody is a bad guy. Nobody is a bad guy. Everyone’s opinions are valid. It’s an interesting perspective on what happened.
The best thing about this particular play, says Loizides, is that it’s funny. The wit and humor are a big part of what made the company want to play it.
In fact, they waited a long time to mount this production. The Hampton Theater Company artistic committee is working together to select the upcoming plays, and this one was supposed to be performed in 2020. Then, of course, the world changed. So the company, which includes Rosemary Cline, who plays Nora, and Andrew Botsford, who plays her husband, has been looking forward to this production for some time. Marianne Schmidt plays Anne Marie and Molly Brennan plays Emma.
The show itself, Loizides said, is an interesting structure that allows the depth of the characters to really shine through. With a simple set of a few chairs, a table and a bench, action and dialogue take center stage.
“It’s a one-act play that lasts 90 minutes,” Loizides said. “There are five directly overlapping scenes. In a way, it’s like a tag team boxing match. Nora is on stage all the time.
As she comes to terms with the people she left behind, important questions arise. These are questions that were not only revelatory to audiences in Ibsen’s day, but also continue to resonate in new and provocative ways today.
“Ibsen was writing about the nature of marriage, of love, of a woman’s responsibility to herself and her family,” Loizides said. “The role that society expects of women and the barriers that are erected to prevent women from having an equal place. I think these questions are still relevant today.
As Cline, Botsford, Schmidt and Brennan prepare for the show, there is excitement in the air.
“We can’t wait to go,” Loizides said. “This will be the last production of the Hampton Theater Company’s 37th season, and we want people to know we’re back. We’ve been doing it for a long time and we still love doing it. For someone who has been acting and directing for 55 years, to always be enthusiastic about coming to rehearsals is a good thing.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” will be played from May 26 to June 12, Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. An additional matinee will be offered on Saturday, June 11. Two bonus “Answers” with the cast will be offered after the performance on Friday, June 3 and the matinee on Sunday, June 5. All ticket holders will be required to show photo ID and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the performance. Wearing a mask will be compulsory inside the theatre. Tickets are $36 ($31 for seniors, $20 for students) at hamptontheatre.org or 631-653-8955. Hampton Theater Company is at 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue.