The Story Behind the Photo: "A Doll’s House, Part 2"

Tania Thompson
 | Oct 16, 2020
A Doll's House
Caption: Shannon Cochran in A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath (2017). Photo by Debora Robinson.

About A Doll’s House, Part 2

The story follows Nora, who in the final scene of Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House makes the shocking decision to leave her husband and children. A door slams. The curtain falls on a stunned audience. Playwright Lucas Hnath continues Nora’s story in this intriguing play with a decidedly modern perspective. Fifteen years have passed when there’s a knock on that same door. Why is Nora back—and what will her return mean to those she left behind?

Director Shelley Butler is a veteran of nearly a dozen productions at South Coast Repertory—both in the main play series and in the Theatre for Young Audiences family series. In 2017, she helmed the world premiere of the SCR-commissioned A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. The Los Angeles Times lauded the show as a “quietly gripping production." Butler selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

What moment does this depict?

Shelley Butler: This is the moment Nora [portrayed by Shannon Cochran] first returns and walks back through the door she slammed so famously all those years ago. There’s perhaps a wave of nostalgia and yet distance from a life she can no longer imagine herself inhabiting. Stronger than she was, having more trust and belief in herself but Nora still lacks power in society. She needs something from her husband, not love, not closure, but something legal that only he can give her—even though she made her way on her own—she cannot circumvent the law without her husband’s signature… and so she must return.

How did you work to make this moment happen?

SB: We wanted to amplify all that the brilliant Shannon Cochran was able to bring to this moment and pull the audience even closer—allowing them to share the breadth of her anticipation, apprehension, hopes and desires—so it felt like they were inside her mind or breathing with her. We accomplished this quite simply by irising in on Nora, dimming down on the room with its impossibly tall walls and casting it largely into silhouette and letting the bright white backdrop symbolize the larger world beyond. That contrast between outside and in became a true liminal space with Nora literally at the threshold between what was and what may come next.

What’s the power about this moment?

SB: This moment was only a flash, but there was a true synergy between Shannon, this extraordinary design team and myself. Sara Ryung Clement’s striking clothing clearly shows Nora as a woman who has now traveled beyond this home and has returned with her own armor. Takeshi Kata & Se Hyun Oh’s room design created a forum for ideas and space for a series of boxing matches to unfold. Tom Ontiveros' lighting carved out the flash itself. And while you can’t hear it, Cricket S Myers’ sound design here, a literal breath, almost a gasp, proved both arresting and poignant.