An Inside Look at Aubergine by Julia Cho
This in-depth guide was prepared by Desiree Fernandez and Jazmine Reynoso, edited by Literary Manager Danielle Ward. To view in PDF format click here.
In this edition:
We Are Excited About
10 Provocative Items Related To This Play:
1. An Interview With The Playwright
2. Learn About The Korean Language
3. Duties Of A Hospice Nurse
4. Why All The Bible References?
5. History Of The Eggplant
6. Comfort Food
7. Food’s Role In Memory And Trauma
8. Korean Family Dynamics
9. American Economics And Eating
10. Top 10 Chefs In The World
The Birth Of A Playwright And Her Play
Food For Thought Questions
San Diego Repertory Theatre would like to thank and acknowledge the following for their generous ongoing support: City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego County and The National Endowment for the Arts.
We are excited about...
Showcasing a new playwright on our stages. Julia Cho’s work has not been seen in San Diego since La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Bay and the Spectacles of Doom in 2003. Yet she has done a prolific amount of creative work since then (if you want to know more about her history as a playwright, check out our timeline on her growth at the end of this Curious REPort.) We are thrilled that our Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey has named Cho his new favorite playwright and we hope to see more of her on our stages in the future.
This particular play is also a very personal one—for many reasons. While Aubergine is not directly autobiographical, Cho incorporated her own experience of caring for a dying parent (her father), including her familiarity with Ensure or how to choose a mattress for an immobile body. “I really tried to tell the truth about what it is like when somebody dies,” Cho said in an interview with American Theatre, “because I felt like I came to it with such ignorance,” she explained. “As it was happening, when my father was in hospice, it was such a revelation to me that this is just the way people die. I wanted, in some weird way, to be able to invite people—in hopefully a non-threatening way—to just see what it’s like. Because we’re all going to die; we’re also all going to see a loved one die.”
Add to that director Todd Salovey’s own grieving process after having lost his mother a year ago, and then his father late last year. Of that he noted, “I don’t really know what the connection of that event is to my directing this beautiful play, but it does seem very mysterious and powerful.” He noted being drawn to the vulnerable and authentic emotions presented in this piece and how much Cho’s poetry resonated with him.
Plus, the death of a loved one is bound to strike a personal chord with many of you in our audience. It is a piece that is not afraid to evoke the feelings that come with loss. Yet, it does so in an uplifting way. As Cho noted: “I think as humans we are trained to think of death as an end. But the play, I think — I hope — treats it more like a transition. There is one way in which a story exists with a beginning, middle, end. But I don’t think that’s the only kind of story. There is another story where even death can still be the beginning of something. Instead of a linear story, the play to me feels more like a series of concentric circles, stories that are nested in each other. And as the play progresses, each of these stories reaches its own conclusion, in a way that doesn’t cone down into a tight point. Instead, the circles widen, ripple outwards. At least that’s what I hope.”
Just some food for thought: the word for Korea in Korean is Han-Kook. “Han” is a unique feeling of endurance, yearning, sorrow and regret. Kook means country. On some level, all the characters in Aubergine experience han.
Which brings us around to the language of this play. It is rare to have a piece of theater that is presented as bilingual as Aubergine is. It was a challenge to cast some of the roles because it clearly required a Korean-speaking actor and actress. And we all worried that the monologues in another language might alienate much of our audience. Yet the emotional resonance clearly shines through, and some of the Korean language moments ended up being our favorite moments in the show. We are excited to hear your response to it.
We thought it would be interesting to share some of the history of how Cho decided to write Aubergine in this way. She said, “I grew up hearing people talking Korean all the time. But wondered later, ‘Why don’t I speak Korean? How is it possible to be around a language all your life and not pick it up?’ It boggled my mind. Language Archive poses the question, “Why? Why don’t we speak the tongues of our relatives?” And Aubergine explores the consequences of that in a more immediate way.”
She came to the idea for Aubergine through a call for short plays about food. “But the funny thing, of course, is that as soon as I started thinking about food, I started thinking about family and of what I eat and why. And then food quickly became about memory and what meals I’d had and why I remembered the meals I remembered… and then I found myself writing about this guy who’s a chef and then I realize, ‘He’s losing his dad.’ It was all the stuff that I wasn’t going to write about or didn’t know how to write about. It was kind of like the mind tricking itself.”
It was very much an experiment for Cho. “I really felt like I was in one of those mines, and you have your pick axe, and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a little tiny vein of gold here, let’s just see where it goes, and maybe it will lead to a larger pay load of ore, but maybe it’ll just peter out.’ She followed that vein into a whole other language. It seemed her characters were demanding to speak Korean. But since she couldn’t write/speak Korean herself, early drafts had an asterisk before Uncles lines saying everything is spoken in Korean.
At that point Cho thought, “This play now will only exist in my mind because this is impossibility. I do not know anyone who translates; I do not even know how to go about paying someone to translate. And even if I could find someone, the actor does not exist who could play this part. I thought it would be really difficult to find a translator, but all these different people started telling me about the same person: Hansol Jung, who also happens to be a playwright.” A happy connection indeed.
The result is this universal heartfelt story that we hope will touch her heart as much as it did ours.
1: An Interview With Playwright Julia Cho
from DC Metro Theater Arts “Women’s Voices Theater Festival” by Natalie Tucker
NATALIE TUCKER: In the world of #MeToo and the #TimesUp movement, how important is the playwright of color’s voice to theater and entertainment world? The Women’s Voices Theater Festival? Do you try more to be original or deliver to audiences/producers what they want?
JULIA CHO: I think inclusivity in the theater and entertainment worlds has always been important. But these new movements make me feel less alone in thinking that way. There’s an awareness now that’s galvanizing and inspiring. For theater — or any art form — to thrive, I think it needs to reflect and engage with the society and culture it springs from. And making theater more inclusive, more diverse, definitely does just that. It has wakened me up in a really wonderful way. I, like so many people, can sink into feeling powerless. But these movements show that you can change the world, that it’s changing right now.
NT: What is your writing Kryptonite? Does it differ between theater and television?
JC: My writing kryptonite is everywhere. There are so many reasons not to write: it’s arduous, it’s possibly futile, it’s ephemeral — and the list goes on. What keeps me going is the unshakable belief that telling stories is deeply meaningful and may even be the most meaningful thing that we humans do.
NT: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
JC: Be kind to yourself.
NT: Food and death are both universal concepts, yet how we feel about these concepts vary by culture. What do you want the Washington, DC, theater audience to walk away with from AUBERGINE?
JC: I want them to walk away hungry — hungry to see a loved one, hungry to have some dish they loved as a kid, hungry to talk about a memory. Just hungry.
NT: What, if anything, did you edit out of this play? Why?
JC: There was one more monologue I took out, where another person talked about their favorite meal. It didn’t have the same weight as the other stories in the play. And when I started realizing all the stories were connected, this one just felt like an outlier so out it went.
NT: Class is sort of artificially invisible in this country, and often conflated with race. How does class differ in Korea or on Korean immigrants to America? Without giving away too much of the plot, what is the significance of class on the characters’ attitudes, beliefs, and behavior in the play?
JC: Most of the characters in the play are middle class and I think with the immigrant characters there’s a pride associated with it — that they’ve “made it” in America. There is one wealthy, affluent character who is set apart from the others. I think it probably reflects my own sense of how sometimes money is the biggest divider — more than race or background. The other characters are all more easily connected. Though by the end, even the wealthy character comes into the orbit of the others and I hope the takeaway is that things like memory and food connect us no matter who we are.
2: LEARN ABOUT THE KOREAN LANGUAGE
by Amanda Snellinger
with historical essay by Ross King and Bruce Fulton
Korean, known in the language itself as Kugo, is the language of the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia. In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) there are 20 million speakers and in the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) there are 42 million speakers. Korean is also spoken by almost 2 million people in China, mainly in provinces bordering North Korea. There are approximately half a million speakers in Japan and Russia, as well as significant numbers in the United States (over 600,000) with large communities on the west coast and in New York. Other communities are found in Singapore, Thailand, Guam, and Paraguay. The total number of speakers is 72 million (Grimes 1992).
Korean has been listed as a critical language by the American State Department because of our strategic business and security interests in the Korean-speaking world, as well as a heritage language due to the number of American citizens of Korean heritage. North Korea was declared a palpable threat in 2003 after they tested nuclear weapons despite the disapproval of the United Nations. South Korea is one of our largest East Asian trading partners. In 2007 the United States exported $ 34,644.8 million to South Korea, an amount on par with some of our English-speaking trade partners. This amount has increased by 582% since 1985. In 2007 the United States has imported $47,562.3 million in goods from these countries, an increase of 475% since 1985.
Korean is among the world's most misunderstood and misrepresented languages because its origins are obscure and the subject of ongoing scholarly debate. Evidence suggests that Korean and Japanese belong to the Altaic language family, which also includes Turkish and Mongolian. Chinese, although it belongs to a completely different language family, influenced Korean greatly. Many believe that the language emerged from a single cultural source. But just as the Korean people of today did not descend from a single homogeneous race, the Korean language of today did not evolve from a single language. Various groups who populated the Korean peninsula in ancient times merged into a homogeneous people with a single language during the unifications of the sixth to the fourteenth century. By the fifteenth century, Korean had emerged as the language we now know.
Officially, there are two standard varieties of Korean in Korea: the Seoul dialect in South Korea and the Phyong'yang dialect in North Korea. The dialects are distinguished and regulated by each country's national language policy. Modern Korean still reflects China's deep influence over centuries. Roughly half the Korean vocabulary consists of words derived from Chinese, mainly through the Confucian classics. Today South Koreans generally use a hybrid writing system in which words derived from Chinese are written with Chinese characters, while Korean words are written in han'gul. (North Koreans totally eliminated Chinese characters and write even Chinese words in han'gul.) Despite word borrowing, Korean is completely distinct from Chinese, in sound and in sentence structure.
3: DUTIES OF A HOSPICE NURSE
Hospice of the Valley Position Application
A character in Aubergine, Lucien, is a hospice nurse caring for Ray’s father. Find out more about what hospice nurses do in their job.
SUMMARY: The Hospice Nurse Case Manager plans and delivers care to patients utilizing the nursing process of assessment, planning, interventions, implementation, and evaluation; and effectively interacts with patients, significant others, and other interdisciplinary team members while maintaining standards of professional nursing and clinical competency.
1. Intermittent physical activity including walking, standing, sitting, lifting and supporting patients.
2. Incumbent may be exposed to virus, disease and infection from patients and specimens in working environment.
3. Incumbent will be required to work at patient’s homes and be responsible for own transportation.
4. Incumbent may experience traumatic situations in the family setting.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
Operates under the director of the Director of Clinical Operations and under the Medical Director’s orders.
Responsible for identifying and coordinating patient/family care to support terminally ill patients and families in home, skilled nursing facility or residential care facility. Frequency of patient / family contacts will be at the discretion of the Case Manager and his/her assessment of need, but will be a minimum of once per week. The Case Manager endeavors to utilize teaching, assessment, and intervention skills to provide comfort care and maximize the quality of life for the patients and families.
Depending on the acuity of the patient, the Case Manager is expected to make 4-5 visits per day with documentation. Case load is approximately 10-12 patients for 40 hrs/week 8-10 patients for 32 hrs/week, 6-8 patients for 24 hrs/week and 4-6 patients for 20 hrs/week.
4: Why All the Bible References?
Facts about Christianity in South Korea from The Pew Research Center
Aubergine features quite a few references to the Bible. Learn more about the religious makeup of the Korean population in this article.
South Korea has no majority religious group. Its population includes a plurality of people with no religious affiliation (46%) and significant shares of Christians (29%) and Buddhists (23%). South Korea’s current president, Park Geun-hye, is an Atheist with connections to Buddhism and Catholicism, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but largely through the efforts of missionaries and churches, Christianity has grown rapidly in South Korea over the past century. In 2010, roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul.
The majority of Christians in South Korea belong to Protestant denominations, including mainline churches such as Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches as well as various Pentecostal churches. Since the 1980s, however, the share of South Korea’s population belonging to Protestant denominations and churches has remained relatively unchanged at slightly less than one-in-five. Catholics have grown as a share of the population, from 5% in 1985 to 11% as of 2005, according to the South Korean census. The growth of Catholics has occurred across all age groups, among men and women and across all education levels. The share of Christians in South Korea (29%) is much smaller than the share of Christians among Korean Americans living in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans (71%) say they are Christian, including 61% who are Protestant and 10% who are Catholic. As of 2012, South Korea had low levels of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward or among religious groups, based on our most recent analysis. In fact, religious restrictions in South Korea are lower than in the U.S., and significantly lower than the median level of religious restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Only about 11% of South Koreans are Catholic, but a survey we conducted in March found that the population has a positive view of Pope Francis. More than eight-in-ten South Koreans (86%) said they have a favorable opinion of the pope, higher than the share of Americans (66%) who had a favorable view of him in February. (Among U.S. Catholics, 85% have a favorable view of the pontiff.)
5: History & Iconography of the Eggplant
by Simon Thornton-Wood
The eggplant (or aubergine) was adopted early in China as a vegetable crop, attested by its presence in treatises such as the Atlas of Plants in Southern China written during the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 CE), the Qimi Yiaoshu, a practical handbook of agriculture written at the time of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581) (Z. Xu, pers. commun.), and in the Ts’i Min Yao Shu, a work on Agriculture of the 5th century (Bretschneider, 1882, quoted by Hedrick, 1919). Eggplant reached Japan about the 8th century at the time of the Tang dynasty (Allard 1996.)
Li Shihzhen, in his 16th century treatise about medicinal herbs, mentions the existence of fruits with various colors (white, yellow, azure, and purple) but adds that eggplant fruits were not regarded by the Chinese as being free from deleterious properties such as the induction of digestive troubles and uterus injury. He describes medicinal preparations based on fruits, peduncles, roots, stalks and leaves for curing diverse ailments such as abscesses, intestinal hemorrhages, and toothache. The earliest Chinese image we have located is a black and white drawing of a small plant bearing two globular and possibly white fruits, part of the Yinshan Zhengyao by Hu Sihui (1330), a treatise about the principles of safe food written by the dietician of the Mongol emperor (Buell and Anderson 2000). Sin Saimdang (1504-1551), mother of Lee Yul Gok, the illustrious Confucian scholar in the Joseon dynasty in Korea, painted beautiful eggplants on a folding screen (See Figure, above) where two plants with oblong fruits are seen, one with a spineless calyx and white fruit and the other with prickly calyx and violet fruits in which the color lightens toward the calyx and is clearly white under the calyx, indicating homozygosity for the recessive allele of the Puc gene (Tatebe 1939; Janick and Topoleski 1963), which stops anthocyanin synthesis when light is absent. A Japanese illustration of an eggplant field with people harvesting globose dark fruits is displayed in an agricultural treatise dated beginning of the 18th century (Doi 1991).
6: Comfort Food
by Desiree Fernandez
Comfort food is known to be food that makes you feel positive, calm emotions. It is often consumed when one is feeling upset or lonely, but can also be eaten when one is happy. Psychological studies show that consuming foods that are associated with good thoughts, warm feelings and positive memories improves wellness and decreases loneliness. Comfort foods are understood by psychologists as artifacts from our past. Comfort food often encompasses memories that we consume along with the nourishment in hopes of feeling that same emotion we associate with the memory. Comfort foods can also be linked to people in our lives. This relationship of comfort food to memories and important people make them unique to each person. It is important to note that there is also a physiological impact of what you consume. The chemical make-up of certain foods can affect cognition, which influences mood and physical states. Even though comfort foods are relative to each person, regardless of culture or gender, some popular American comfort foods are cheeseburgers and pizza. In Korea, comfort food can range from kimchi fried rice to gamjatang, a pork bone stew with potatoes, to the comfort food Ray makes for his dad, the beef and radish stew, Muguk.
Think of your comfort foods and learn more about the popular comfort foods in different countries!
7: Food's Role In Emotion, Memory and Trauma
by Desiree Fernandez
If one consumes comfort foods too frequently, it can become emotional eating. Connecting food to actively redirecting negative memories and trauma is emotional eating.
There is a relationship between emotional eating and trauma. When a victim is triggered by a negative emotion that is related to the traumatic event, they will sometimes engage in emotional eating. It is important to note that while there is a difference between binge eating and emotional eating, they both are related to their lack of connection to or avoidance of the present.
As we know, certain foods can improve one’s memory. In a study published at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, women who ate mostly saturated fats, such as red meats and butter, performed worse on thinking and memory tests than those women who ate a lower amount of fats. Scientists have also connected the relationship of poor diet to a development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The exact reason for the connection between diets high in saturated and trans fats and poorer memory isn't entirely clear, but the relationship may be mediated by a gene called apolipoprotein E, or APOE. This gene is associated with the amount of cholesterol in your blood, and people with a variation of this gene, called APOE e4 are at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease.—Harvard University, 2012
There are several foods that are understood to promote brain health and memory. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. These foods help improve the health of blood vessels, reducing the risk for a memory-damaging stroke. Scientists have also seen a relationship with alcohol consumption and dementia. Moderate alcohol consumption raises the levels of cholesterol. Alcohol also lowers our resistance to insulin, lowing blood sugar more effectively. This process of insulin resistance has been linked to the development of dementia.
The relationship between the brain and memory is related to the function of the hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for forming long-term, declarative memory which contributes to our “autobiographies” we carry around in our heads. The hippocampus is connected to the part of the part brain that deals with emotion and smells. This explains why emotions and memories are triggered by certain smells.
Emotion and smell no doubt contribute to the power of some food memories, but the hippocampus has more direct links to the digestive system. Many of the hormones that regulate appetite, digestion, and eating behavior also have receptors in the hippocampus. Finding food is so important to survival that it is clear that the hippocampus is primed to form memories about and around food. —Harvard University, 2012
8: Korean Family Dynamics
by Desiree Fernandez
The South Korean family dynamic is different from the North Korean dynamic. Hyo is the relationship between father and son, which is the foundation of Korean family dynamics. This relationship is described as unequal, due to the fact that the son owes the father “unquestioning obedience” (US Library of Congress.)
Korean families believed it was of the utmost importance for the male heir to carry on the family lineage and perform ancestor rituals in the house and at the gravesite. The first son assumes family leadership after the father passes, inherits the father’s home and the most land out of the siblings. This inheritance offers the first son the tools needed to continue the family line and perform ancestral obligations. The Korean household, called chip or jip, consists of a husband, wife, their children, and, if the husband was the eldest son, his parents as well. The eldest son was responsible for honoring the ancestors and his wife’s role was to produce and raise the male heir.
A survey conducted in 2015 of South Korean households found that South Korean fathers spend an average of just six minutes a day with their children. This is often due to long working hours that require fathers to leave the house before their children wake and return home after bedtime.
There is also a different culture that has developed in Korean American households, as might be expected. In a study titled “The Korean American Family: Adolescents versus Parents Acculturation to American Culture,” it was noted that mothers, fathers and adolescents maintained Korean cultural and linguistic characteristics while adopting some American cultural and linguistic features. The adoption of American culture and English was more evident among adolescents than their parents. The association between Korean American parents’ acculturation attitudes and their characteristics were consistent with the acculturation framework.
Many regard Korean Americans as one of the “model minority groups.” However, typical Korean American families face many conflicts and tensions related to acculturation, language, customs, values and ways of life. The shift in priorities between Korean culture and American culture is often hard to balance in family dynamics.
9: American Economics and What We Eat
by Desiree Fernandez
There are several studies that show how American economics and household income influence what people eat. Many believe that low cost diet plans consist of greasy, unhealthy fast food. However, a very low cost diet plan can meet the same nutrient standards as a thrifty food plan at only 60% of its cost (Foytik, 1981). This diet would require a significant change in food consumption, such as using powdered milk as the only dairy product and chicken and hamburger as the only source of meat. Historically, and in many cultures food consumption consists of a simple diet of a single staple, such as rice, wheat, or corn. Only the rich in such societies can afford more varied diets.
The eating patterns in America challenge the relationship between diet and income. “Eating patterns in the U.S. demonstrate the complexity of human behavior and continue to challenge researchers' understanding and explanation of them. Given the generally plentiful American food supply, public concern should focus particularly on the diets and nutritional needs of the poor, who do not share in this abundance.” (Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT).
Gender, age and culture are some of the influencers of low socio-economic status and poor health outcomes. Population studies show the relationship between social class and food/nutrient intake. Low-income groups in particular, have a greater tendency to consume unbalanced diets and have lower intakes of fruit and vegetables than those from a middle or higher income levels. The income earned by a consumer leads to both under nutrition and over-nutrition in the form of obesity.
10: The Art of Cooking
Famous Chefs & What Makes Them Extraordinary
Fine Dining listed these chefs as the Top 10 in the World:
1. Arnaud Donckele – Residence De La Pinede (Saint Tropez, France)
2. Michel Troisgros – Maison Troisgros Restaurant (Ouches, France)
3. Jonnie Boer - De Librije (Netherlands)
4. Yannick Alleno - Alleno Paris (Paris, France)
5. Seiji Yamamoto – Nihonryori Ryugin (Tokyo, Japan)
6. Paul Pairet - Ultraviolet (China)
7. Emmanuel Renaut – Flocons De Sel (Megève, France)
8. David Kinch - Manresa (California, United States)
9. Alexandre Couillon - La Marine (France)
10.Rene Redzepi - Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark)
The “Le Chef list” is created by asking two- and three-starred Michelin chefs to provide a list of five names they think best represent the cooking profession. They are also asked to provide one name they would like to see at the top of the list. The list of 100 best chefs in the world has been released with help from chef Michel Troisgros from the world famous Maison Troisgros restaurant in Ouches, France. Michel was named as the best chef in the world for 2018.
Not only is the rigorous and lengthy training important for being an extraordinary chef, there are additional traits needed. In order to run a successful kitchen and be a great chef, you need to have commitment, creativity, intuition, leadership and mentorship.
Food For Thought Questions
1. What is a recipe that has been passed down in your family? What memories do you have around eating that food?
2. Did you/your family move from another country? If so, what were some challenges your family had adjusting to American culture?
3. Can you think of some moments you have felt defined by a language?
4. What would be your ideal way to say goodbye to a loved one?
5. Is there a topic that you and your parents (or you and your children) have completely different opinions/perceptions of?
Archived Curious Reports
An Inside Look at A Doll's House, Part 2
This in-depth guide was prepared by Shelley Orr and edited by Literary Manager Danielle Ward. To view in PDF format, click here
In this edition:
We Are Excited About
The "Father" of Modern Drama: Henrik Ibsen and His Plays
The Door Slam Heard Around the World: Impact of Ibsen's Play
Synopsis of Ibsen's "A Doll's House"
Why Gender Equality Stalled - Opinion Piece from The New York Times
"Wifey for Lifey": The Resurgence of Conventional Gender Roles?
Feminism and Class: What About Anne Marie
Smash the Patriarchy: Feminism Today
Part 2: Notable Sequels in Theatre
An Interview with Playwright Lucas Hnath from Vogue
History of Marriage
A Brief Timeline of Women's Rights
Food for Thought Questions
San Diego Repertory Theatre would like to thank and acknowledge the following for their generous ongoing support: City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego County and The National Endowment for the Arts.
We are excited about...
Producing the Tony-nominated sequel of one of the most important works in theatre history! As Time Out New York noted, “'A Doll’s House, Part 2' keeps you hanging on each turn of argument and twist of knife. It’s dynamite.”
But this isn’t surprising since the original was also provocative. A sensation upon its initial publication, Ibsen's "A Doll’s House" attacked the social and cultural norms of its day by telling the story of Nora Helmer, a woman trapped inside a loveless marriage to bank manager Torvald. Once she realized that to truly become her own person she must strike out on her own, she left her husband and children, slamming the door behind her. Did you know that this play was so controversial in its time that people were specifically asked not to talk about it when they attended parties and events?
Lucas Hnath’s play, 'A Doll's House, Part 2,' resumes the action 15 years later with a knock on the Helmer's front door. Standing on the threshold is none other than Nora. Why is she back? And how will the family she left behind react to her sudden reappearance? Those questions—and more—will soon be answered.
Though set in the late 1800s, this intriguing new play offers a decidedly modern perspective. Hnath plays with language and ideas from our contemporary world layered into this formalized piece in such a way as to allow reflection on our own ideals. Just how far have we come in gender equality over the last 100+ years? And how do we feel about Nora’s choices today?
But for all of its thought-provoking qualities, this play is also very funny. We selected this piece in part because of that playful balance between laughter and pointed contemplation. It is something I consider to be a hallmark of San Diego REP plays.
And, of course, we are thrilled to see our top-notch diverse cast—which includes Sofia Jean Gomez, Rene Thorton, Jr., Linda Libby, and Danny Brown—tackle all of this with director Sam Woodhouse on the Lyceum Stage.
And unlike the original, we encourage you to talk about it at parties and events!
The "Father" of Modern Drama: Henrik Ibsen
By Shelley Orr
In the introduction to "A Doll’s House" in the third shorter edition of the Norton Anthology of Drama (2018), Columbia University’s Martin Puchner notes: “Writing in an era when the theater had become a second-rate occupation, with the most gifted writers turning instead to novels or poetry, Henrik Johan Ibsen restored to drama its prestige and relevance” (608). In the nineteenth century, an era dominated by melodrama and spectacle, Ibsen made his mark by being dedicated to serious drama over his fifty-year career in the theatre. His plays took up the most potent social questions of the day and explored them on stage, at times stoking controversy. "A Doll’s House" was exactly the kind of play that asked audiences to examine their own values, decisions, attitudes, and behaviors. And its highly controversial ending made the play the talk of Europe.
Ibsen was born in 1828 in Norway into a wealthy family in a small town. The prosperity was short-lived, however; his father’s shipping business went bankrupt when Henrik was eight. Once he came of age, Ibsen was apprenticed to a pharmacist for six years. He began working full time at just fifteen and would write plays and paint in his spare time. After completing his apprenticeship, he failed his university entrance exams to train to become a pharmacist. He then changed his career and pursued writing full time. He worked diligently from the time he was in his early twenties to become a successful playwright. His earliest play Catiline was not well received, but his early attempts introduced him to the theatre scene in Norway’s capital. After a couple of years, he was able to get a job at the theatre in the Norwegian town of Bergen where he had the opportunity to see a lot of theatre and learn the craft of playwriting in earnest.
As a student of the standard dramatic form of the time, Ibsen became well versed in the well-made play. This form was dominant on European stages and championed by French playwrights Sardou and Scribe. The hallmarks of the well-made play include a formulaic story with an intricate, fast-moving, cause-and-effect plot involving more-or-less stock characters. Focused on entertaining its audience, the well-made play favored exciting plot twists and humorous coincidences over nuanced characters and true-to-life events.
Ibsen worked to develop drama into an art form. After initially writing more fantastical stories and characters, in the second half of his career Ibsen wrote his plays in the style of Naturalism. Naturalism was a movement in literature and theatre in which authors sought to incorporate the spirit of scientific inquiry into their artistic creation. Proponents of Naturalism were interested in pursuing the truth of people’s lives and favored highly developed, individualized characters interacting in a fully realized environment on stage. This style ushered in many of the practices that we consider conventional in our theatre today: fully realized, realistic settings with actors portraying their characters as though they are real people with individual personalities and traits.
"A Doll’s House" may be seen as a piece transitioning from the traditions of melodrama and the well-made play in the nineteenth century into the Realism that dominated in the twentieth. The character of Krogstad could be viewed as a typical villain in the beginning of the play. He is more nuanced than most villains of melodrama, but his threat to blackmail our main character, Nora, drives much of the plot until the last act. In Act 3 the play seems to change track and turn from a melodramatic story of a housewife’s secret to a serious discussion about relations between the genders. Krogstad entirely drops his threat to reveal Nora’s deeds in favor of a new relationship with Kristine, but Nora can see now that she has been merely playing a role and can’t return to being the housewife in a sham marriage. In this exchange between Nora and her husband Torvald, the direction of the play and, in significant ways, the theatre itself, is changed:
TORVALD: [Sits at table directly opposite her.] You’re worrying me, Nora. I don’t understand you.
NORA: No, that’s just it. You don’t understand me. And I have never understood you—not until tonight. No—no interruptions. You have to hear me out. We’re settling accounts, Torvald.
TORVALD: What do you mean by that?
NORA: [After a short silence.] Doesn’t one thing strike you about the way we’re sitting here?
TORVALD: What might that be?
NORA: We’ve been married for eight years. Doesn’t it strike you that this is the first time that the two of us—you and I, man and wife—have ever talked seriously?
Ibsen has the temerity to have his characters take off the façade of middle-class respectability and truthfully assess their marriage. Theatre was never the same.
The Door Slam Heard Around the World: The Impact of Ibsen's Play
By Shelley Orr
In his “Notes for a Modern Tragedy” written in October 1878—the year before he began work on A Dol’sl House in earnest—Ibsen wrote, “A woman cannot be herself in modern society. It is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and male prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.” While he stated frequently that he was not a crusader on behalf of women’s rights, his play has certainly contributed to the discussion. George Bernard Shaw, a contemporary of Ibsen’s and a fellow playwright, coined a new term, the “discussion play,” to describe the impact of Ibsen’s play and others like it. Bernard Shaw was a supporter and even played the part of Krogstad in an early private production of "A Doll’s House" in London.
Ibsen’s "A Doll’s House" was based on an actual incident involving an acquaintance named Laura Kieler. Kieler took out a secret and illegal loan to help cure her husband of tuberculosis. She approached Ibsen about recommending her book for publication, so she could raise money to pay back the loan. Ibsen felt the book was substandard and refused to recommend it. In a desperate situation, she forged a check and was caught. In light of the accusations against her, her husband had her committed to an asylum. While Ibsen’s play adjusts many of the details, Kieler’s experience clearly influenced the subject of his play.
Ibsen repeatedly claimed that he was not motivated by political aims in his writing, but his plays, especially "A Doll’s House," addressed serious questions of his day. The play was published before it was first publically performed on stage in Denmark. Even in script form, it caused quite a stir in Norway and Germany. It was reported that dinner invitations sent out at the time would request that guests refrain from speaking about Ibsen’s plays, so contentious and heated were discussions about Nora’s actions at the end of the play. Indeed, the ending of "A Doll’s House" was a shock to a Victorian society that was more familiar seeing women in a state of domestic bliss, quietly sewing hearthside. The idea that a woman would leave her husband and children to become a person on her own was scandalous and shocking. Actors first cast in the part of Nora in both
Germany and England refused to play it with the ending in which Nora left, fearing that their audiences would think ill of them by association. The English production cast another actor. But in Germany, the producers asked Ibsen to write an alternate ending. He wrote an ending in which Nora relented and stayed, but he regretted his decision almost immediately calling it “a barbaric outrage” and withdrew it from any future productions.
Here are the concluding lines that caused such furor (in a translation by Rick Davis and Brian Johnston from the Norton Anthology of Drama, third shorter edition, 2018).
TORVALD: Nora—can’t I ever be anything more than a stranger to you?
NORA: [Taking her traveling bag.] Oh, Torvald—not unless the most wonderful thing of all were to happen—
TORVALD: Name it—what is this most wonderful thing?
NORA: It’s—both you and I would have to transform ourselves to the point that—oh, Torvald, I don’t know if I believe in it anymore—
TORVALD: But I will. Name it! Transform ourselves to the point that —
NORA: That our living together could become a marriage. Good-bye. [She goes through the hall door.]
TORVALD: [Sinking down into a chair by the door and burying his face in his hands.] Empty. She’s not here. [A hope flares up in him.] The most wonderful thing of all—?
[From below, the sound of a door slamming shut.]
The stage direction about the slamming door, so final and unsentimental, has echoed through the decades as has Ibsen’s influence on theatre. Telling the story of characters who are so very like the people in the audience, speaking familiar language (not elevated poetry), wearing familiar clothes, in familiar rooms may have been, ironically, “too close to home” for many theatergoers of the day. The play asked the audience to acknowledge uncomfortable societal truths.
Synopsis of Ibsen’s "A Doll's House"
While you don’t need to have read or seen "A Doll’s House" by Ibsen to thoroughly enjoy Lucas Hnath’s provocative sequel, below is a synopsis of Ibsen’s play to help you get up to speed. This article first appeared in American Conservatory Theater’s performance guide series, Words on Plays, in 2004. For more information about Words on Plays, visit www.act-sf.org/wordsonplays.
The world premiere production of "A Doll’s House" opened at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879.
Torvald Helmer, a lawyer Dr. Rank
Nora Helmer, his wife Nils Krogstad
Place and Time
"A Doll’s House" takes place in the Helmers’ apartment, in a provincial town on the southeast coast of Norway, late in the 19th century.
Act 1. On Christmas Eve, Nora and Torvald celebrate Torvald’s recent promotion to the position of director of an important bank. After his promotion takes effect in the new year, the family will no longer have to worry about money. Nora is especially grateful, for she has been living with a terrible secret: years before, she secretly forged her dying father’s signature to borrow money to finance a trip to Italy, where her husband, who was suffering from tuberculosis, could recover his health. The warm Mediterranean climate cured Torvald, but ever since their return to Norway, Nora has been scrimping, saving, and taking surreptitious odd jobs to repay Nils Krogstad, the holder of the loan. Krogstad, who works as a lowly clerk at the same bank as Torvald, is a social pariah because of his past illegal business dealings, and Krogstad fears that he will lose his job under Torvald’s new management. Krogstad has discovered that Nora forged her father’s signature and threatens to tell Torvald the truth if she doesn’t do something to make sure that Torvald allows him to keep his position at the bank. Torvald, however, who considers Krogstad “morally exhausted,” has already given his job to Nora’s old friend, the impoverished widow Kristine Linde. (Mrs. Linde has shown up at the Helmers’ for an unexpected visit after an absence of ten years.) Torvald agrees to find a position at the bank for Mrs. Linde. He suggests that Krogstad’s corruption is the result of having had a “lying mother,” and Nora worries that her own deceit will somehow harm her children.
Act 2. It is now Christmas Day. Torvald has given Mrs. Linde Krogstad’s old job. Nora, unable to prevent the termination of Krogstad’s employment, fears what her husband will do when he learns the truth about the loan and her forgery. She flirts with Dr. Rank, the family’s good friend, hoping that he will give her the money she needs to pay back her loan. Rank, who is dying of an inherited sexually transmitted disease, tells Nora that he is in love with her; she promptly decides that she can no longer in good conscience ask him for the money. Krogstad tells Nora that he will reveal her illicit dealings to her husband, in hopes that Torvald will reinstate him at the bank in order to avoid a scandal. Certain that her noble husband will take the brunt of the scandal himself to spare her, Nora contemplates suicide to protect him. Krogstad drops a blackmailing letter containing the details of Nora’s “crime” into the Helmers’ locked letterbox, to which only Torvald has the key. Mrs. Linde helps Nora repair a Neapolitan fisher girl costume, which Torvald brought back from Italy and wants her to wear when she dances the tarantella at the neighbors’ holiday party the following night. Nora enlists Torvald’s help in rehearsing the tarantella and dances for him with increasing wildness, as if her life depended on it. Feigning nervousness over her approaching dance performance, Nora convinces Torvald to rehearse with her right up until the performance and not to open the letterbox until after the party. Nora hopes that a “miracle” will occur, and that Torvald’s love for her will overcome his anger when he reads the letter and finds out about the loan.
Act 3. Mrs. Linde waits in the Helmers’ sitting room, listening to the dance music coming from the neighboring apartment. Krogstad arrives, responding to a note Mrs. Linde sent him. Krogstad and Mrs. Linde were once in love, but she chose someone else. She now suggests that they rekindle their romance. Filled with new hope, Krogstad vows to reverse the actions he has taken against the Helmers. He leaves and the Helmers return from the party. Mrs. Linde greets the couple and tries to convince Nora to tell her husband the truth; then Mrs. Linde leaves as well. Torvald is drunk and amorous after seeing his beautiful wife dance her passionate tarantella, and he tries to hurry an unwilling Nora off to bed. Dr. Rank appears and asks for a cigar, then leaves. Torvald empties the letterbox, which includes a prearranged sign from Rank to Nora that his death is near, and that he will not return. Torvald, in his grief at the loss of his friend, professes his love for Nora; reassured of his love and ready to face the truth, Nora insists that he read his mail. Torvald reads Krogstad’s letter and flies into a rage, immediately disowning Nora and telling her that she will no longer be allowed to care for her children and will be his wife in name only. Another letter from Krogstad arrives, returning Nora’s loan papers and apologizing for his actions. No longer