A Doll's House, Part 2

Play Guide

by Brian Coats, Education Programs Associate

NOTE: This Play Guide may contain mild spoilers about the story of the show. If you like to be completely surprised by the play, you may wish to wait until after seeing it to read the Play Guide.


October 10 – November 4, 2018



Who's Who?

  • Nora: After leaving her husband, children and home 15 years earlier, she returns to address some unfinished business with her family. 
  • Torvald: Nora’s husband has struggled in her absence and finds her unexpected return unnerving and complicated.
  • Anne Marie: The longtime made and nanny of the house was forced to raise Nora’s children when she left, which has led to some unresolved resentment.
  • Emmy: Torvald and Nora’s daughter is uninterested in having her mother’s life and seeks to follow her own path.

What's The Story?

Fifteen years ago, at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer made a choice to leave her husband and children, and forge a new, independent path for herself. Now, she has returned, starting off the action with a knock on the very same door that she slammed shut when she left her old life behind.

In Nora’s 15-year absence, the Helmer house has become a shell of what it once was. With blank walls, drab furniture and little light, it no longer claims the comforts of a home. Anne Marie, the maid of the house, remains, having looked after the Helmer children and Torvald, Nora’s husband, while Nora was away. The Helmer family has struggled, but they have also adjusted, and moved on.

Nora seems to have found great success on her solitary journey. She shows up wearing well-made clothes and with a gleam in her eye, telling tales of her career and adventures. However, her return to the Helmer house is sparked by a discovery that threatens everything that she has built for herself: it appears that Torvald never filed for divorce, meaning that Nora is still bound to him by law, and her actions for the past 15 years are not aligned with society’s expectations of a married woman.

Nora, Torvald, Anne Marie and Emmy are all forced to face the past in order to find a way forward in this gripping 90-minute family drama.

Gender Equality: The Battle Rages On

Though Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 takes place in the late 1800s, right before the turn of the century, he writes in contemporary language, using modern-day vernacular for Victorian characters. Not only does this significantly separate his play from Ibsen’s original work, but it also draws strong parallels between the society depicted onstage and the society that we live in today. The conversations between Nora, Anne Marie, Torvald and Emmy are conversations that you might hear in a coffee shop or read online.

The past few years have been seen a number of protests for social change, and one of the most prominent fights is for gender rights and equality. Though progress has been made since the 1850s, women are still fighting for respect in the workplace and in society at large. On average, women make less than men who work in the same career with the same qualifications. Women are still expected to desire marriage and children, and society questions those who choose to walk a different path. Like Victorian systems of categorization, women are still labeled as nurturers and caregivers, while men are expected to be tough and unemotional. Boys are still taught that “crying is only for girls” and that they should have more interest in sports than in arts.

Society’s pressure on conforming to gender expectations is constrictive for both men and women. For women, it can feel like a constant fight to be heard and respected and seen as an individual. For men, it can lead them to internalize all of their emotions in an effort to appear masculine, which can also lead to violently aggressive and dangerous behavior, oftentimes towards women. In many ways, it can feel as though men and women are at war with one another in an effort to maintain the balancing act that was so prevalent in Victorian society. At that time, it was believed that a women’s quiet/shy/innocent behavior worked to balance a man’s tough/hard-working/dominant nature. Now, as women push to step outside of such a limited mold of who they can be, men work to find a way to balance the new status quo. However, instead of working to establish an equal level with women, societal expectations push men to be even more dominant. This has led to a complete lack of balance and behavior that has, in very recent years, reached a boiling point.

Join us as the tension inside this broken family boils over in our Mainstage production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2.