When Nora Helmer slams the door at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House, she isn’t just leaving behind her husband, Torvald, and three children; she’s also rejecting the conventional gender roles of the time that rendered women powerless in their own marriages. Nora’s exit ends the play on an ambiguous note, as it is left unsaid whether she leaves temporarily in a moment of passion, or if she’s really gone.

Playwright Lucas Hnath provides an answer in his 2017 sequel, A Doll’s House, Part 2, which opens at PURE Theatre on April 5. The story picks up 15 years later and fittingly begins with a loud knock on the door.

It’s Nora, who has since become a successful writer, urging women to leave their unfulfilling marriages and live independently. She’s returned because of a recent discovery that Torvald never signed their divorce papers, which poses various legal and personal problems. After several years without any contact, Torvald isn’t the only member of the family who has unresolved issues with Nora. Anne Marie, the longtime nanny, and now-grown daughter Emmy also have their fair share of grievances.

Although the relationship between Torvald and Nora is understandably a fractured and tense one, director Sharon Graci says it isn’t one-dimensional. Through “quick and provocative” dialogue, Hnath is able to capture the complex emotional layers that linger between the pair.

“What I think is really terrific is I think it runs the gamut from her anger and frustration but it also has elements of connectivity and love,” she says. “So it is really dynamic and really, really full. I think you see all the things that you would expect from two people who chose each other at one point in life, who have suffered great wrongs at the hands of the other and then have some years under their belt and some personal growth on their side.”

“You don’t really know whether he’s carried the torch for her for 15 years,” adds Cynthia Barnett, who plays Nora. “I mean, he hasn’t remarried or anything. She’s not certain if he’ll give her the divorce. She needs it desperately to continue her life as it is.”

And while Nora is quite satisfied with the way her life has progressed since she slammed that door and walked away, there is an acknowledgement that her decision came at a price.

“It’s a combination of trying to find her vulnerability and her regret in leaving her children and also her strength and courage,” Barnett says of playing the role.

Although A Doll’s House, Part 2 takes place in 1894, the play is written in a contemporary voice. From Barnett’s perspective, “it’s absolutely a modern play with modern ideas and concepts,” especially when considering its commentary on gender relations.

“There’s a lot of that that still resonates today,” Barnett says. “Yes, women have more choices, but look at the #MeToo movement. This is why it really resonates now, because women are going, ‘You know, this isn’t cool anymore. This doesn’t sit well, and I’m sick of being quiet about it, how I’m being treated, and I’m not going to be quiet anymore.'”

For Graci, one of Nora’s lines — “I don’t want to live by bad rules” — perfectly captures that sentiment.

“I think, to me, that is what is so meaningful and so poignant, it allows us to say some things really have never changed,” she says. “[There’s a] pervasiveness of bad rules that we continue to be forced to adhere to, even though we know these things need to change. And I think that’s what’s really, really powerful about this story.”


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