A Doll's House Part 2 Brings 100 Years of Feminist Discourse to the Stage
Red Turnip Theater launches its fifth season with a century’s worth of storytelling in A Doll’s House, Part 2, bringing to Metro Manila a powerful piece of modern feminism that, truth be told, ought to be required viewing for anyone considering marriage.
The script is written as a standalone play; there is absolutely no need to have seen the original A Doll’s House first, as the characters bring audiences up to speed through rather clever dialogue. Its historical background, however, gives us a deeper appreciation of the material.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, written in 1879, is widely regarded as a major influence on the feminist movement in Ibsen’s native Norway and across Europe. The play was a rarity in its era: one that questioned the oppressive double standards society enforced upon women. Impassioned stagings sparked an era of enlightenment on gender issues throughout the region.
In the play, protagonist Nora Helmer gets tangled in a web of lies after she secretly borrows money to support her ailing husband, Torvald. The act threatens to land her in prison—in 19th century Norway, it was illegal for women to make economic decisions without the presence of their spouses. As Nora tries to find her way out of this mess, she begins to realize that the life she’s built with Torvald is a prison in itself: He is inattentive and condescending and demands that she put her family’s needs before her own. By the end, she removes her wedding ring, walks out of her home, and slams the door behind her.
Nora’s final, powerful act of defiance was a wake-up call for Norway’s burgeoning feminist movement. In the 40-plus years after its writing (a timeline cheekily alluded to by Nora in Part 2), the country’s women won the right to suffrage and equal pay. That Florida-born Lucas Hnath saw fit to write a sequel to such a landmark play—especially one so influential in its native country—with 2017’s dramatic sensibilities was an act of sheer audacity; equivalent, one might argue, to penning Hamlet 2.
It was also absolutely necessary.
If Ibsen’s characters represent the discourse on gender equality, Hnath’s sequel is a reflection of how the discussion has changed over the hundred-plus years since the original was written. A Doll’s House, Part 2 takes the conversation a step further, using Nora’s decision and its repercussions to examine how the power dynamic between men and women has evolved.
Nora returns home, through the very door she slammed behind her, after 15 long years. She has built a tremendous life for herself, but for reasons still tied to how society has stacked the odds against women, she finds herself in need of Torvald. Torvald, on the other hand, is finally able to unload all that he needs to say to Nora, having had a decade and a half’s worth of reflection on why she left.
What follows is a nuanced discussion on the struggle between self-determination and duty, and how women are expected to favor the latter. Nora is chastised for taking
It’s a poignant parallel to how feminist discourse has evolved over the years.
In staging A Doll’s House, Part 2, Red Turnip Theater adds one crucial element to the conversation: a female voice. The production is actress Cris Villonco’s directorial debut, putting her in the ranks of the country’s sorely small population of female directors. Her vision guides a feminist story ironically written and re-written by two men, bringing a sense of “rightness” to the play. There’s an intimate familiarity with the characters that permeates throughout each performance, as though the director had lived each of their lives at one point.
Villonco’s acute storytelling manages to tread the line between independence and co-dependence, never fully taking either side of the argument, yet speaking cogent points for each. By the end, she shows the audience which perspective she favors without vilifying the other. In this regard, she’s gifted with a cast capable of delivering every ounce of nuance needed to strike that delicate balance.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s Nora is a wonderfully realized character, self-assured and neatly pressed, but with a few subtle breaks in her seams. Her body language, down to the way she sits with her knees a good distance from each other, gives the audience a clear picture of who she is every single second of the play’s 90-minute runtime.
Opposite her is Carlitos Siguion-Reyna as Torvald, who comes off at the beginning as a nebbish shell of a man
Sheila Francisco steals every scene she’s in as Anne Marie, who is both comic relief and an alternative lens through which the audience can view the Helmer’s issues. And Rachel Coates adds another memorable performance to her young career as Emmy, Nora’s daughter who makes a surprisingly logical argument in favor of traditional marriage.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 manages to distill more than a hundred years’ worth of discussions on gender equality into a lean, 90-minute marital drama, staying within its original era while showing today’s audiences the way forward. Red Turnip Theater, with Villonco’s direction and a very skilled cast, tells its story in its most effective way: forthright, balanced, and decisively.
A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs every weekend from September 15 to October 7, 2018, at the Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tickets are available via Ticketworld or through Red Turnip Theater’s Facebook page.