Straight insanity! It was on full display in Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of Lucas Hnath's new play A Doll's House, Part 2 (which is sort of new; it's being performed at like every repertory theater in the country, and Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird's mom and Roseanne's younger sister—won a Tony Award for performing in the play in 2017). The play spends a lumbering 90ish minutes exploring the heterosexual obsession with marriage and how "marriage makes a person change for the worse," to quote the show's central character, Nora. This discussion is as interesting as you think it is—which is, not very.
Straight marriage, from what I can tell, is usually about fucking one person until you die, breeding babies, and—at least historically—controlling women. A Doll's House, Part 2 really zooms in on this last part. As Nora, played in the Rep's production by Pamela Reed, opines in the play's first scene: "Marriage is cruel, and it destroys women's lives." Right to the point.
It's important to note that straight marriage is not the same thing as gay marriage, even though we've all been told that Love Is Love Is Love Is Love. Love Is Not Love. We repeated that phrase so we could get basic rights, but we don't have the same problems as you people. It's hard to manipulate your partner based on their gender when you're the same gender (although we still try), and plenty of gay people have more sex when they get married with more people (go to gay brunch and people bandy around the phrase "my husband" like it's an invitation). In this post, I'm talking about straight marriage, which, based on this play, is a topic people still want to sit in a theater and commiserate over.
But if we're going to dig into the miserable straightness of A Doll's House, Part 2, we really have to talk about playwright Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (Part 1).
Ibsen's A Doll's House is credited with kicking off modern theater in the latter half of the 19th century when its lead character, Nora Helmer, had an epiphany: In the play's final moments, she realizes her marriage sucks and she's tired of being a mother. Her husband pleads for her not to leave, but she walks out. The front door slams. Blackout. End of play. Europe pulled its collective hair out because this ending was so shocking. But it wasn't necessarily shocking because of the content, but because of the form.
At this time in the theater, a well-made play traditionally had three parts: exposition in the first act, a situation in the second, and an unraveling in the third. But Ibsen is credited with introducing a new technical factor in the third act: discussion. This "discussion" is his true marvel; it's the crack that let modernism invade the theater. (For more on this, read playwright George Bernard Shaw deconstruct Ibsen in his authoritative essay, The Quintessence of Ibsenism. It's a spicy read, if you're into well-written old-ass theater theory.)
But while Ibsen's introduction of discussion might have been groundbreaking, now we can't get rid of it. Today, a well-made play is judged almost exclusively on its discussion. We've gone so far with this ~100+-year-long trend that Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2 is ONLY discussion. Instead of three acts, Hnath presents an hour-and-a-half one-act play that has Nora returning just to discuss her big action (leaving her family/slamming that door) one more time. And the theater world has swallowed this up and asked for more.
Somehow, in 2017, it was decided this tedious yet brief discussion on the pros and cons of straight marriage warranted a Broadway stage. And then, in 2018, the play was so needed that it was the year's most-produced play! And THEN, in 2019, Seattle Rep decided it was Seattle's time to have this discussion!!! Why? Who wants to sit in a theater and listen to people in ugly outfits discuss the finer points of the contract of marriage?! I can't figure it out. Straight marriage must be fucking hell, that's my only clear conclusion.