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Lincoln Konkle’s complete interview of David Hammond on his 2007 production of Thornton Wilder’s
adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.



David Hammond is Artistic Director Emeritus of PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theatre at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was Artistic Director for fourteen seasons. A former resident
director for the American Conservatory Theatre and the Yale Repertory Theatre, he has taught on the faculties of the
Juilliard School, the Yale School of Drama, the A.C.T. Advanced Training Program, and the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. He currently teaches for the New York University Graduate Acting Program and the
American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard and is Professor of Theatre Studies
at Guilford College.



7/11/07

LK: How did you first learn of Wilder‟s acting version of Ibsen‟s The Doll’s House?

DH: I‟ve actually known about it for years. I think 25 years ago I read one of Ruth Gordon‟s many books. Wilder
runs through her life; they were great friends. There was a period when she had achieved great recognition as an
extraordinary actor; she did a brilliant production of the Country Wife, and Ethan Frome and some other
extraordinary plays and was a respected front runner comparable to Katherine Cornell. Then, she hit a dry period
where she couldn‟t find a play and no one was offering her parts. It was at this time that her emotional partner, Jed
Harris, did not seem to go out of the way to find projects for her. She originated much of her career; she was her
own driving force. Sitting on the steps with Wilder, Gordon said, “I can‟t find a play,” and he responded, “Go to the
library.” I think he may have recommended The Doll’s House and she, in return, asked him if he would do the
adaptation. He was a very loyal friend and, as you know, he did several adaptations. Wilder was a very
extraordinary dramaturge. He was a major American playwright, of course, but his knowledge of theatrical
literature and form was very rare. I think someone who parallels him now is Tom Stoppard; he wrote tremendously
successful plays, then for several years did adaptations of European plays which he reset and revamped in the way
Wilder revamped A Day Well Spent. [Wilder adapted his farce The Matchmaker (original title The Merchant of
Yonkers) from Einen Jux will er sich machen by Austrian writer Johann Nestroy, who had adapted his play from an
English farce A Day Well Spent by John Oxenford.] The relationship of the dialogue to the action varies from
playwright to playwright. Each playwright finds that the creative act of why these people are speaking this way is
influenced by the fact that they are sitting next to the hot stove and have just come in from the snow and did not get
enough sleep last night. Does it matter at all in Shakespeare? The given circumstances are structured right into the
dialogue, but they are there. Dialogue is the active communication; in the stocking scene in Doll’s House the
relationship to that dialogue is very different.

LK: You are referring to Rank and Norma in the stocking scene?

DH: They don‟t say everything. Someone doing an adaptation must realize that the real key is not how accurately
they have translated the words in that line but how accurately they have captured the way the line works. This
adaptation [Wilder‟s of A Doll’s House] is extraordinary. It is extraordinary.

LK: You knew of this through your study of Ruth Gordon‟s career and so forth?

DH: It‟s from twenty-two years with The Playmakers Repertoire Company, which is the equity company here, at
UNC Chapel Hill. I retired and was offered this position at Guilford College. They have a lovely thing here. Since
it is a Quaker heritage school, the students vote on everything by consensus.

LK: How about that.
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DH: They asked me propose three plays and do a little presentation on each one. We talked about them with the
students and they said, “Oh Doll’s House! Doll’s House! How wonderful! We should do that.” So, I said, “Great.
I love the play.” I was teaching over in London and in The National Theatre there is this phenomenal little book
shop where I bought fourteen translations of Doll’s House. Over the summer, I read them all and found something
wrong with each of them, so I went back to the Archer version [first English translation]. It does have an
understanding of the action, but the relationship to the language is Victorian, so it doesn‟t quite work for us. It‟s like
watching an old movie.

LK: Yeah, I just read that.

DH: He was accurate and a good dramaturge, but you have to go back 120 years to understand why his version does
not work anymore. I remembered all of a sudden in the middle of reading it, “Wait! Wait! Now who did that?
Who did that? Of course, it was Thornton Wilder.”

LK: So how did you find the Wilder version? How did you obtain that?

DH: I thought, “Well, Robert Freedman Agency handles Wilder so they must have it.” They said, “Oh no. We
don‟t have it, not even in a typescript. It was probably never published.” I left a message for Tappan Wilder when
he was up in Maryland and I got a call from him when he was out in Aspen seeing the Our Town opera. Tappy said,
“Oh, I would be delighted if you were interested in doing it. There are three versions you‟re going to have to sort
through to figure out which one you want to use. I‟ll send you all three, then you tell me what you think the reason
is that it‟s not published. We‟ve never quite been able to make up our minds on that point.” So, this giant envelope
arrived with these three scripts. I sat down and was just delighted. It was like this light opening up on the play.

LK: How did it differ from some of the other versions or translations you have read?

DH: First, it reads like a play; it does not read like a translation. I started with what is version three because it
looked like it was going to tell me the most about that production. I guessed that that was the final version also
because it had the cast in the front. I said, “Oh, my goodness: Walter Slezak, Dennis King, Paul Lukas, and Sam
Jaffe. These are great, great actors. I looked at Ruth‟s script first because her handwritten notes were so beguiling it
was hard to read, so I said, “There are the other ones, so I‟ll get back to her notes after I‟ve been through the play.”
It reads like a new play; you are not conscious of it being a translation. It was so incredibly refreshing to me
because it cuts to the vitality of the characters; it just goes right to the people, particularly Helmer because
translators spend their attention on Nora and make a lot of assumptions about Helmer. So much so that he comes
across as sort of a stick in many translations. In this one he is quite vital. Wilder paid attention to the voice of
Helmer‟s character and to the actions and idiosyncrasies of each of the characters. Mrs. Linden in many versions is
also terribly vague. Here, she is a faint voice of feminism. She‟s a pragmatist and a tired realist, not a busy body
that interferes in Nora‟s life or gets involved enough to say you should leave your husband. It is all very
emotionally logical. Mrs. Linden is a very kind, full character. It just looked so actable to me which other
translations did not.

LK: Is it “Linde” or “Linden”?

DH: Hampton changed “Mrs. Linde” to “Mrs. Linden” in his version.

LK: Linden, as in Linden tree? What does that signify?

DH: I tore my hair about it and asked Tappy for permission to say Linde instead. Then, I found a wonderful article
by Emma Goldman. She wrote a great book on the significance of contemporary drama around 1911. Quite early,
she was brilliant. She wrote extraordinarily well and was a great speaker. She did an analysis of Doll’s House and
nailed it. Goldman said Ibsen‟s theme is the social contract and the lie. She got the play. It is not just about
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marriage; it is about a society that is based on lies. Marriage is a microcosm of society. The whole society depends
on how we accept and behave in this fantasy. Part of the fantasy is [the idea] that there has to be working and
wealthy classes. But, marriage is one fantasy. A man goes out in the world and works terribly hard and deserves a
castle. The woman‟s role is to make that little castle happen. That is a fair contract. In Emma Goldman‟s essay she
refers to the character as “Mrs. Linden.” I looked around and apparently, in most American productions, it was
always “Mrs. Linden,” so it was fairly normal. Hampton did not invent that.

LK: So the other version was Lindman?

DH: No her name in Norwegian is Linde; he makes it Christina Linden. And apparently that was very standard in
American versions. I guess because early translators thought it was necessary that you realize that she was named
after a tree. Like her name was Mrs. Elm or Oak.

LK: Is there any symbolic significance to being a Linden tree?

DH: No because Linden is a common name in Norwegian. I don‟t think so. And Rank is a common name and in
Norwegian it has nothing to do with disease.


LK: You have already spoken to some extent about the strengths of Wilder‟s version. Are there other strengths or
weaknesses of his version?

DH: Well, I think you have to accept that it‟s an adaptation. Here‟s another one. I‟m just turning the pages here.
The scene I‟m giving you these comments on was eventually cut in version three, but in Ruth‟s script they were still
rehearsing with what we call version one: “„We could take the money and wrap it up in gold paper and hang it on
the tree and that‟d be fun.‟” She crossed off “fun” and changed it to “wouldn‟t that be just as good as a real
present.”

LK: That‟s a nice line. Did you use that one in the production?

DH: The scene is cut. In the final version, what I think is his final version, the entire scene is redone.

LK: I like that line a lot. That‟s nice.

DH: Well, it makes her less--it is a much more specific line; it‟s just harder. “Wouldn‟t that be just as good as a real
present” is less of a goofy line than “wouldn‟t that be fun.” The action is different. In the last scene, which is in the
version that you have, it is very, very specific, and they cut not ruthlessly but with astonishing discipline. You go,
“But, oh my God, that‟s a very famous line!”

LK: Yeah, I noticed that. I noticed that there was quite a bit of pruning of the final confrontation there between
Torvald and Nora.

DH: That whole final scene is as is in her version. For instance, “I can‟t spend the night in a strange man‟s house.”
A great line, but normally followed with “but can‟t we live together as brother and sister….” Well, that wouldn‟t
last long.

LK: Why do you think he cut really famous lines like that?

DH: It‟s cut in the rehearsal script. She has it crossed out. I initially put it back in his first version and then I
suddenly went, “No. They‟re right. It‟s over written for a modern audience.” I mean, you‟ve seen attempts to
initiate sex with her in the same act. They come home from the party and he‟s hot. He‟s touching her and she says,
“Not tonight.” It is all very clear that he makes assumptions about his rights and for her to say, “I can‟t spend the
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night in a strange man‟s house,” and start to go into the children and cut directly into “No. I won‟t go into the
children. They are in better hands than mine,” it‟s actually much, much stronger. You also have to remember a
Norwegian audience in the 1880‟s probably had to be nailed on the head; you probably had to say, “Can‟t we live
without sexual relations?” Nora saying, “You know that‟s not possible” is unnecessary. It isn‟t necessary now that
we understand that and for Torvald to say, “Can‟t we live as brother and sister” for a modern audience is childish. I
mean he could say, “What if we don‟t sleep together,” but in the 18880‟s for him to say, “Can‟t we live as brother
and sister,” was probably a very racy line. But, it is not a racy line; he is being delicate about something about
which they do not talk. However, we do. The pruning of that last scene was probably days and days of work in
rehearsal. It isn‟t necessary for her to say, “I can spend the night with Christine tonight.” It is not necessary, so they
cut it. If I were doing another version of the play I would be extremely hesitant to cut any of that. I would say, “No.
This is Ibsen and the moment to moment is absolutely vital.” He wanted this point made, and I would not feel
licensed to make the cuts. Wilder had the license.

LK: You said that that one line was overwritten. Do you think that that is a quality of Wilder‟s version: to kind of
tone that down a little bit, tone down the overwriting or the melodramatic speeches maybe?

DH: Yeah, he did with the play. I hope this will be understood properly. I don‟t want to make this sound like I‟m
belittling this in anyway; he did what an excellent screenwriter would do while doing an excellent screenplay of a
play. He said, “We are on a different stage to capture the way this play worked in 1879.”

LK: The earlier scene when Torvald is trying to put the move on Nora must have been really risqué for that time.

DH: Right. The scene where she practically behaves like a prostitute with Rank.

LK: Stroking his cheek with the stockings and all that?

DH: Yeah, I mean think of it. It is 1879, Nora is flailing her stocking near his face, and, very specifically, Torvald
reacts to the stocking and Nora says (I‟m paraphrasing here), “What‟s the matter? Don‟t you think they fit me?”
Silk stockings at that time were sewn so they would be fitted to her legs. So, what he is seeing is the shape of her
legs. And when she says, “Don‟t you think they fit me?” He goes, “I have no way of knowing.”

LK: Right. At first, she just wants to let him look at the feet or something. Then she allows him to see the whole
thing.

DH: He says, “I would have no way of judging that,” or something like that, and he nails it. He‟s really saying,
“I‟ve never seen your legs.” Wilder captures the relationship with Dr. Rank. For example, Nora knows all about
Rank. Her father knows the whole history which means they have discussed it. She also knows Torvald knows,
which is often lost completely, as if Rank was telling her for the first time in the stocking scene about his father.
She knows the entire history and he plants it. Everything that is cut is something that is mentioned elsewhere in the
play. It is planted in the structured given circumstances across the text. Wilder gets the tracing of everything
through the play which most translators do not. He knows why Mrs. Linden says, “You know Dr. Rank‟s father was
quite a man?” He has this health problem and Mrs. Linden says, “How do you know about things like that?” [She]
says, in this version, “Oh well, when one has had children one gets to meet with nurses.” [She] is lying, which is
always lost. Rank has told her. Nurses in the hospital happen to be talking about venereal disease. It is what she
says to Mrs. Linden, and she covers. Mrs. Linden keeps perusing the relationship with Rank. Then what‟s going on
in Act II she says you have to stop this with Dr. Rank. Nora says, “What are you talking about?” [Nora] and Rank
have a very sexy relationship. She talks to Rank about things she doesn‟t talk to Torvald about and not just her
aspirations and longings. He talks very racy to her. When they are alone together, they talk and giggle about all
sorts of things in a way that would shock Torvald. [Wilder] also gets that Torvald does not like Rank, which is
always lost. It is often played that they are very good friends and they behave like friends, but Torvald says he is a
bore.
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LK: Yeah, he does say that a lot.

DH: [Rank] pretends to be coming to see Torvald, but of course he is coming to see [Nora] which is very clear but
usually lost. It usually [is translated] that [Rank] and Torvald are great buddies and they are sort of a threesome.
[Rank] comes there to see her. They have a whole private world where she gets to be a little racy, and they talk
about things [which would horrify] Torvald to know.

LK: Like saying “hell,” “damnation,” and so forth?

DH: Yup. He follows that through from the moment Rank is mentioned through the whole play. If you confine the
way he follows that throughout the play for each character, he does it for Mrs. Linden and Krogstad. Then you do
not, in fact, have to restate everything in the last act. Anything that Wilder cut he made absolutely sure was layered
in throughout the play. He went to the places where it does exist in Ibsen and made them clearer in a more modern
way. So his dramaturgical adjustment was to take the same material, keep the same action and the same relationship
to the circumstances, and layer the circumstances, making sure to clarify the way the circumstances are layered
through the entire text, so that one speech is not a moment that tells you the circumstances but the circumstances are
clearly there. It is, but people miss it.

LK: Why do you think Wilder‟s version would appeal to audiences in the late 30‟s? Or, what was his thinking
about audiences in the late 30‟s as opposed to Ibsen‟s or Archer‟s translations?

DH: I think that Wilder…. I do not have to say this to you, or to anybody who would be reading this article, but I
think that Wilder is a great playwright, not just a good one. I think that he is, this will sound very strange to readers,
underestimated.

LK: I agree. In American drama scholarship today, he is underestimated. That was not always the case, but
basically from the 60‟s on, his esteem fell.

DH: The point of saying he is a great playwright is I do not think that he ever wrote for the audience of 1937, for
example. I think he just wrote great plays. Surely, you are dealing with someone who is theatrically astute, and he
knows what makes a good curtain. For example, Our Town, there is nothing like it before it. [However, that is] not
because he does not use furniture. The whole of what he put on stage was universal for all time, and what he chose
to dramatize had never been dramatized in that way. So it is a new vision really, so I do not think that he was
writing for the theater period. He was writing purposely for theater. Sure, that is going to be prismed through the
theater as the world at this time knew it. But, you look at Our Town and The Matchmaker and they are not based on
here. Even Matchmaker is not based on “here is what a play is and I am writing to that formula” the way 60‟s
playwrights wrote good commercial plays. Playwrights, and I will not name them, write for “Here is what a play
should be and there must be something [in] this moment. This kind of moment has to happen before the Act II
curtain.” Writing to a formula, you can be an excellent commercial playwright. Real playwrights just write, and I
think he was one. I think he got into Ibsen‟s soul. I think he thought and felt like Ibsen, but not that part. Ibsen was
a great playwright, too, obviously. I do not think that when he got into Ibsen he thought, “I‟m in 1879.” He was
thinking like Ibsen now, just taking that play and saying it is this and this here is the pulse. What the adaptation has
that other versions do not is the pulse. It has it; it has the heartbeat. It has the continuous motion forward [and is] on
its own terms, like in the original. To review, Brooks Atkinson said it was “beautifully freshened and freed” and that
it had been, though he does not use the word “debris,” freed of debris and pruned very well.

The other wonderful thing is following the rewrites and this is all speculative. I told Selma Luttinger at the Robert
Freedman Dramatic Agency, which still handles Wilder‟s plays, how wonderful I thought the adaptation is. “This is
absolutely the best English-language version of Dolls’ House I have ever read,” and she, in her wonderful dry laugh,
said, “Yeah, I think the kid‟s got a future.” I told her I hoped it would be published. People have to know about this
version. You know…when it is published there will be reactions. You will have people saying, “Oh no. It‟s an
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adaptation.” I read between 10 and 20 [versions] and I think about fourteen versions, most of them, are adaptations.
Most of the existing English language versions are adaptations without saying that they are. Others say it frankly. I
mean, there is one by Bryony Lavery, who wrote Frozen, that is in semi-verse. I mean, it is literally in semi-verse
because she was fascinated by what she saw as Ibsen‟s language patterns. I don‟t know if she needs it to be versed,
but it is versed like language. To me it was very, very strange and I think it is a translation not an adaptation. But
there is no major point made as to why she chose to write it in that kind of language, but I would say that one is
much farther away from Ibsen because it changes the relationship of the text to the action; it is a more verbally
focused text. Anyway, there are several excellent ones. There is one by the wonderful Irish playwright Frank
McGuiness. So, there are plenty [of adaptations] being done all the time. People don‟t say adaptation; they say it is
adapted by (name) and nobody bats an eye. I suspect that when people read this one, they are going to go, “Oh
wow. He almost rewrote it,” but he doesn‟t rewrite it, he reshapes it. He reshapes it into its own form. It is like he
cleans off the tarnish [from] this thing [and turns what] was black [into] bronze. He does not take it and melt it
down into a different object. He cleans it off, gets inside it, and scrapes away everything that no longer is alive. He
recreates parts of it [that] do not seem alive. He eliminated them, but [the adaptation] is a very real recreation of the
original.

LK: Now, you said a little bit of this to me last week, but just to get it on tape, what was the process of the selecting
the three different versions that you had by Wilder?

DH: Well, I studied them all and my initial reaction was that version, the final version…you have. There is [the]
Freedman one, which is like the one that you have, but it is longer and a little closer to Ibsen. Then there is Ruth‟s
rehearsal script, which is number one, with her notes and cuts. Then, there is number three, which is the one you
have. The reason I say it must be number three is that it has lavish stage directions which explain the production as
it happens. That is, describing the action of the production so obviously. This version was done after the production
was on its feet or during the rehearsals at the production. It is the one based on the production, so that has to be
toward the end. So, my theory is that version one is the one that Wilder first did; that is what they went into
rehearsal with and Ruth‟s cuts indicate extensive work on [it]. Then there is version three which incorporates all of
her cuts, but version three has major rewriting added. It opens in Central City, Colorado before Toronto. It may
have gone other places in between, but the next major stop was Toronto. In Central City, Colorado Walter Slezak
played Torvald and Dennis King, now forgotten but one of the great actors, was in Marsha and Natasha about five
years later. I saw [Dennis King] with Dorothy Tooten when I was in a high school [in a production of] Portrait of a
Queen which is about Victoria. He played Disraeli. [The production] was at the old Henry Miller Theater, and I did
not know who he was. He entered about twenty minutes into the first act; he entered looking exactly like Benjamin
Disraeli, but he stepped onto the stage and all of the women gave him a thunderous applause. He was that big of a
star from their years of theater-going. He was brilliant. He was just brilliant in this play about Queen Victoria. I
went home and looked him up [and found] this guy was great. He must have been sixty-five. Dennis King was Dr.
Rank in the production, and by the time they got to Toronto, King became Torvald and Walter Slezak was no longer
in the cast. Walter Slezak was kind of a lovable teddy bear, had a slight German accent, and would have been rather
like George Tesman in Hedda Gabbler. As Torvald, he would have been, this is just speculative from having seen
him on film…a kind of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but sweeter. So, that would be one way to cast the part. Dennis
King was a distinguished leading man and had wonderful charisma. As a younger man, [he] was someone on whom
Marsha could have a crush. In Toronto it is Dennis King. Then, the production went to Chicago. Wilder saw it in
Chicago and his journals seemed to indicate that after seeing it there he did the final rewrites on the script. Now,
what were those rewrites? Again, speculation, I think they are the changes that are in version three. Those represent
the rewrites that he did after Chicago and a major share of those changes have to do with the part of Torvald. He
rewrites the first scene entirely and feels it is really daring as it, not deviates, but he makes choices: “I‟m not going
to do that. I‟m not going to repeat that story here. I‟m going to get her on stage; Christine on stage [will] get this
thing moving.” If Christine had started that way it would have been reckless. At that point in the rehearsals, I think
they had a very solid production and they realized they didn‟t need a lot of the detail. Some of what he does, for
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example, Nora brings presents for Ivar in Ibsen‟s original version. I think it is a trumpet, sword, horse, and a doll
and something else. I don‟t remember. The point is that she gets the boy [toys] automatically. Wilder simply has
her bring [out] the toys and when Ivar is poking around, he pulls out the drum and says this is for me. She mentions,
I think, one toy for each child because in 1937 they did not need the repetition to say, Oh, I see a drum, a horse, a
sword, a doll, [and] whatever else…. We do not need repetition. We get it immediately.

LK: Do you think that is basically the same principle that had Wilder cut out Bob, so we only have two children
instead of three?

DH: Well, they started with three. It was in his first version. Again the same principle is layered through Ivar. [He]
opens the drum and knows it is for him. It is not going to be for Emmy, so it is layered through the thing that he
cuts. Mentioning all three boys‟ toys is layered through the play. You do not need it. Ibsen already indicated it
because nobody has said [it previously]. Then, he is very free. Wilder adds that she buys expensive roses and, yes,
in more ways they were really expensive in 1879 at Christmastime. She is throwing money away, and the maid
says, “Ah, flowers.” [Nora replies] that, yes, they were terribly expensive. The other thing [Wilder] does is move
the macaroons in the final version. I cannot remember when she takes them out in the final version, but it is a
different place. Oh, he cut Torvald asking [Nora] about the macaroons. Of course, in the original, he says, “Has
somebody been to the confectionary shop? Somebody‟s looking guilty,” and it is a big thing. In Wilder‟s first
version it is a present and he cuts it. [As] Rank…pulls them out, she says, “Have a macaroon,” and he says, “I
thought they were contraband here.” [Nora] says, “Torvald does not let me have them because he thinks they are
bad for my teeth.” It is there [the audience sees] that she has a secret life and, more importantly, she shares the
secret life with Dr. Rank. So, you do not need to have him say in the first scene, “You haven‟t been eating
macaroons have you?” So he cuts it. It is not cut from the play, but [the] way it is layered into the text is adapted
and modernized. He rewrites that first scene in a major way, then does major rewrites on most of Torvald‟s big
speeches. Most of the rewriting is focused on the character of Torvald.

LK: What do you think are the differences, for example, [between Wilder‟s and] Archer‟s version? It seemed to me
that Torvald in Archer‟s version versus Wilder‟s version was different. Do you think that is true? How would you
summarize the differences?

DH: I think Wilder gets it right. Again, [as] I said earlier, in many translations, they spend all their attention on
Nora and they do not get into Torvald; they do not nail it. So, he comes across as sort of general and a dramatic
device, her opposite. If you will, Wilder makes Torvald sexier and more virile in the rewrite. I don‟t mean viral as
chauvinistic. I mean manly. When talking about Doll’s House, that is an awful thing to say. He becomes more of a
handsome young lawyer, excellent husband type. [He is]…the perfect catch. But, he is not. He has been through
several jobs and thinks of himself as somebody who has achieved everything because he has worked very hard. But,
he is obviously from a certain degree of privilege. You do not get a job in a bank without any connections. He
started out working for the government, enlisted, tried private law practice, was unsuccessful, and got himself sick,
so [Nora] hocked everything. She took out the loans to save his life. He thinks he recovered from his illness and
everything he has achieved is entirely because of his nobility and hard work. To some extent that is true, but much
of it is because he was connected, privileged, and had enough opportunities. He also had his wife killing herself to
help him. On the surface, in his eyes, and in his intentions, he is the perfect, wonderful, hardworking, attractive
husband who holds down a job, keeps himself fit, loves his wife, and loves his children.

LK: I had the impression that Torvald was a little sterner in Wilder‟s version. I guess simply because Wilder cut out
from the Archer version all the little pet names Torvald used for Nora: the lark, the squirrel, the little song bird. He
pretty much limited himself to “creature.”

DH: Try saying them on stage. “My little lark,” that is a killer line. Get an actor over that one! Pet names work
because they work in a relationship. The bird, in Norwegian, is the bird that is messy. One translation, I think
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Christopher Hampton‟s, uses spend swift. What do we call little birds that scatter things about? He says, “spend
swifts,” which is great if you are British. I think Wilder just felt they were not necessary.

LK: So, the “messy bird” was an insult, not affectionate? Affectionate but also insulting, as also implied in
Norwegian?

DH: No, it is like saying “chubby cheeks.” That would seem strange, but it could be said that he loves her. He
loves her idiosyncrasies because they make him feel superior. He does not know that he loves saying, “Nora you are
spending too much money,” especially now that it does not matter anymore. He loves her dependency. She plays
the game of dependency and being scatterbrained. Wilder makes it very clear that Torvald thinks this, but,
unknowingly, he actually owes everything to her. Nora believes she is actually controlling the game. She knows
Torvald likes to feel superior. Economically, Nora is the one that kept them afloat. She knows she saved his life.
Nora also loves the fact that he does not know it. She thinks she has the upper hand while Torvald thinks he has it;
they both love it.

LK: In looking at Wilder‟s three different versions you started and you went through a process and you decided that
in your rehearsal that you ended up doing the same thing that they did in the original production.

DH: I felt a great responsibility. I started doing a conflation. I took what I thought were the best versions of each
scene and put them into one script. Imagine that you are an editor, you were sent these three versions, and you are
supposed to produce a text. I could annotate that text, so I did. I sent it to Tappy, but he was not very happy about
it. It was not that he opposed the text, but they were not really any version that Thornton wrote. But, he said go
ahead. We started to rehearse and it was solid. [The production] was going along, and after about the first week, as
we did a certain scene, I noticed [that some parts] really [dragged] and [other areas] really worked. I started to make
a cut and I went, “Wait a minute. I went to version three and the cut I was making was the cut already there. I
would run into a speech of Torvald‟s, the actor would seem to find it difficult, and I would look at version three.
“That‟s why he rewrote this speech!” What we ended up with was version three with those few changes that I e-
mailed you. When I realized we were essentially doing version three I said, “Ok, let‟s check it. We made sure we
were doing the lines exactly as they were written in version three. Again that‟s speculative, but it‟s supported by a
lot of evidence. I feel fairly confident that is how they worked on it. I think version three is final.

LK: Was your production the only other production of Wilder‟s script?

DH: Yes, I think WWII happened and Our Town was the next year. I believe Wilder copyrighted it towards the end
of his life. He probably intended to do a final polish of it then publish it. He just did not think about it enough or
care about it enough. He was writing The Ides of March.

LK: But he did think enough of his work to copyright it.

DH: He did it quite late. He obviously was thinking about getting back to it. It certainly was not published. I think
Our Town and Merchant of Yonkers happened.

LK: In fact, they were playing at the same time. So, how did Wilder‟s Doll’s House play in your production?

DH: It played fantastically. This was a college student production. Ibsen is very difficult for students because the
kind of realism that he writes is somewhat stilted. It is one of the most beautiful forms of realism, but the
relationship between human circumstance and action is very specific. When you get it, the language does not sound
stilted. Young actors very often cannot find it. It does not seem real to them, but it is. In Wilder‟s version, he has
solved those problems; suddenly, it sounds like you are talking. His way of structuring the different circumstances
make them readily apparent and, as an actor, you know what is going on immediately. It is both a very faithful and
                                                                                                                        9


immediately accessible version. I cannot imagine a version of the play that young actors could more readily grasp.
They were thrilled because they were doing Ibsen and audiences did not find it strange or stilted.

LK: Can you elaborate on the audience‟s reaction to it?

DH: There were gasps and people found it to be a very sensual play. It is about the very nitty gritty of a marriage
partnered with Nora‟s emotional, sexual…. What is the word? Slavery?

LK: Dependence or subordination?

DH: Both. The emotional, sexual, and ego co-dependence and the back and forth switching from intellectual to
physical shows their thirst for and abuse of each other. She feels just as responsible for the fact that the relationship
is a fantasy. Nora does not blame him; she is trying to make him see what she has discovered. She says, “I do not
know who I am and until I know that I cannot do anything. I cannot raise the children; I‟m hopeless. I‟ll turn them
into me. You have the same problem, Torvald, because you do not know who you are.” That is what she is trying
to say, not “you have done this to me.” She says, “You and my father have done me a terrible injustice.” That is
true because that is their role. They have the power, but she is saying that to make him have an awakening, too.
Nora knows she has to go somewhere else, but she does not know where she is going. I do not think she is walking
out that door to destiny; she is walking out the door because she [will] die [in that house]. Hopefully she will find
something, but the play is about [nothing real happening inside those walls]. You have to look at it.

LK: How would you describe the composition of your audience? Were they sophisticated theatergoers or general
public?

DH: They are bright college students, faculty, and townspeople. We did a junior high school performance because
they teach Doll’s House in the schools here.

LK: In junior high?

DH: Yeah. It‟s great. We got a letter asking if we could arrange a matinee and we had about one hundred junior
high students.

LK: How did they respond to it?

DH: Shock! They were not expecting an emotionally gripping performance. They did not giggle during the kisses
or the seduction. They saw a young husband assuming proprietary and physical rights with a young wife. They
were quite shocked and they got it. They did not think he was right. They also did not think it was abuse. They just
saw the fact of the assumption.

LK: Isn‟t that amazing?

DH: They did not giggle at the stockings. These are kids who have read the play.

LK: They did not read Wilder‟s version. Did they read another?

DH: They were surprised when they saw it because it was better than what they had read. They did not expect it to
feel modern. They were ready for a PBS version. [The students] liked the fact that it felt real. I [received] a lot of
letters. Boys wrote, “I felt sorry for Torvald because he was so clueless.” Women wrote, “I didn‟t understand Mrs.
Linden until I saw the play. When we read [the play] I thought she came in and destroyed the marriage.” [Overall,]
Nora was more intelligent than they thought. They saw that she grew up in the course of the play. The version
works, and I hope it has a life because what is working is not a gimmick. It is a real crystallization of the essence of
Ibsen‟s play.
                                                                                                                      10


LK: Did any of the audience members have any comments from those who were familiar with the play in other
versions? Any comments specifically on the difference of this version?

DH: No, not one. No one missed anything. No professor, not one person. They all said, “What a wonderful
production of the play.” Then I said to everyone, “Well it‟s a wonderful adaptation.” Even people that really knew
the play sat there and thought that they had seen Ibsen‟s play. It did not occur to anyone that Ibsen did not have
Nora come in with roses.

LK: I guess you would have to have recently read Doll’s House or be really familiar with it.

DH: It is so essentially faithful. There is a wonderful thing that he does. He expands the part of Ellen the maid. He
made it into a wonderful part. She knows the children, and in the first scene, the porter brings in a wooden horse. It
is wrapped up in paper. If you wrap a rocking horse it is still going to look like a rocking horse. The porter sets it
down and, Ellen, in one of her crosses through, goes to get a vase for the flowers. When she goes to leave she sees
the horse on the floor and says, “Well, well.” Nora [replies], “Yes, that is a horse.” What Wilder is doing here is
[emphasizing] that [the rocking horse is] an expensive toy that Ivar has wanted. Ellen recognizes that Nora has
bought the rocking horse which Torvald has probably told her not to. The conspiracy between Ellen, who knows the
kids, and Nora, who also knows the kids, is reflected in this little moment. Now that‟s my take on the moment, but
the point is that there is something shared between the maid and the mother about the rocking horse. He is building
Nora‟s relationship with the servants as well as the servants‟ relationship to the family. When we were working on
this moment in version three the prop designer said, “What is with the horse?” I said it had to be recognizable as a
horse but wrapped. [I suggested taking] the rocking horse and wrapping it in brown paper to keep the shape.
Everyone in the audience got the moment and it was the first audience that we had. Nora was putting the roses into
the vase and the maid turned away to get the box because it was from an expensive florist; I think [that movement]
is actually in the stage directions. Nora does not want Torvald to see that she has gone to this expensive florist and
spent money on roses. Then the maid goes, “Oh my god, you got the horse.” Nora says, “Yes, I did. Yes, that is a
horse.” It was the first huge laugh. It was a laugh of complete understanding; you absolutely understood that Ellen
and Nora were in cahoots.

LK: Did audiences, in fact, laugh at some of those lines? That is one of the famous comments about Archer‟s
version. It doesn‟t have any humor.

DH: Oh, they worked. The lines that were supposed to be funny worked. Years ago, I was doing Master Builder in
Seattle and I met Eva Le Gallienne. She sent me her autobiography, the second volume: With a Quiet Heart. At the
time, Eva was touring in The Royal Family and I had tickets. I wanted to see it again when I came to San Francisco.
I had bought these tickets, but then I got this job in Seattle. So, I gave the tickets to a poor student of mine who also
cleaned apartments, and I sublet my apartment to a guest director who hired my student to clean the apartment.
While she was cleaning the apartment, my student snitched my copy of Eva‟s biography, went backstage with the
book, and asked if she could have it autographed for her teacher who had given her the tickets. Eva autographed the
book and my student sent it to me in Seattle. Eva wrote: “To a young man about to direct his first Master Builder,
don‟t forget the comedy.” Underlined three times in the purple ink she always wrote in: “Good luck, Eva Le
Gallienne.” She makes the point that humor is wonderful. I also read notes on the first great successful American
production. Audiences roared in Act I and were entranced by the fact that they were supposed to find [Nora]
adorable. If you remember, she thinks she has the upper hand. Nora is playing the game of relationship and
consciously manipulating Torvald. It makes him happy and it makes Nora happy that it makes him happy. That is
what most marriages are like. They are not on the same level. Maybe not in the same roles, but each partner lets the
other partner get away with certain things because they really think that it is alright. “It is just an idiosyncrasy. I‟m
really in charge, so I do not care if he calls me chubby.” That is absolutely intended.

LK: Yes. I noticed when I read Wilder‟s version there were some genuinely “laugh out loud” moments.
                                                                                                                       11


DH: He knew that about Ibsen. He totally understood that those macaroons were hilarious. They are more hilarious
if you do not have him say in the first two pages, “You are looking guilty. Did you stop in the confectionary shop?”
Nora pops them out of her pocket and offers him one while talking with her mouth full. Wilder actually specifies
popping two or three into her mouth.

LK: Last one on the composition of your audience; I‟m not familiar with Guilford College. Where is that exactly?

DH: Greensboro, North Carolina.

LK: That‟s a pretty good size city, isn‟t it?

DH: Yes.

LK: Is it more industrial or white collar? How would you describe it?

DH: I have only been here six months, but it is a very lively town. There is a professional theater, a ballet company,
good museums and libraries. It has a very healthy middle class, I like. I could not begin to tell you what the major
industries are. There are several universities here.

LK: Isn‟t North Carolina State there, or one of the North Carolina universities?

DH: The North Carolina School of the Arts is twenty minutes away in Winston-Salem. Elon College is twenty
minutes away in the other direction. There are a couple of state schools; I‟m just getting around now.

LK: Anything else you want to say about your production before I follow up on the text?

DH: It was good. What can I tell you? I could not begin to tell you how many plays I have done professionally.
The ones that matter, the ones that stay with you, are the [plays] where the actual work in the rehearsals was
gratifying and rewarding and you felt like you were really getting it. Everyone in it was at their creative best and
contributing to what was happening. That is when rehearsals are a joy. You do not go, “Oh, how will I ever make
this scene work?” [Instead, you are] so eager to have that experience in the rehearsal room. It is just alive and you
are part of it. Those are always the ones that come out the best. Those [productions] are the ones that stay with you.
Just to have something that was difficult, or that you pull off, something that gets great reviews and is a big hit is ok.
That is lovely; I would much rather have a hit than a flop. But, the ones that matter are the ones [in which] the
actual process was the joy and those always become greatly successful. [Success] is a byproduct. It is when the
doing is gratifying. So, I loved doing it and working on it. To have young people leap to their best creatively and
respond to the material was tremendously gratifying.

LK: A few follow up questions…. I have taught Doll’s House before, but that was a few years ago, so I was not
used to it. Reading his version I thought, “There are some of these famous lines missing.” I definitely recognized at
the end when Torvald says “the most wonderful thing” was not there.

DH: It is back and forth. He finally lets it go, and I think you are supposed to act it. He says it earlier in the scene:
“What would that be, what would that be?” If you understand the actor‟s playing, that he is desperately trying to
understand her. Nora says, “We both have to change so we can actually have a marriage.” He has asked the
question, it is there. But then to repeat the question is to do nineteenth century drama. The illumination of the line
happened at a point in the rehearsal. I am sure it happened while watching the scene and Jed Harris or, maybe,
Dennis King, said, “I don‟t have to say this.” I am playing it already; they‟ll get it. Now, if you do not work
properly and he is not playing it already, then you are going to miss that line. I have seen so many productions
where Torvald is not playing it earlier in the scene because they have misunderstood the scene. Then, the actor says
that line and [the response is]: “What are you talking about? You don‟t care.” It is this moment for Torvald. “What
could the miracle be? What could the miracle be?” he says. But you do not need the line; you have to have it in the
                                                                                                                      12


play already. So, I think the reason that people who knew the play did not comment was due to [the fact that] no
one noticed the lines were not there.

LK: I read Archer‟s version yesterday with Wilder‟s next to me, checking the versions side by side, and noticing
what Wilder cut. How do you think the gender scene was rendered in Wilder‟s version as opposed to Archer‟s?

DH: How do you mean?

LK: Do you think the gender theme was as prevalent in Wilder‟s version as it had been in Archer‟s version?

DH: Excellent point. I think Archer gets it wrong because Wilder is writing not just a feminist play. It is not “men
do this to women.” It is: “Our society is based on contracts that we agree to because we believe they make society
work.” Ibsen thought all social rules should be changed every seven or eight years because they die. When a
contract is no longer working it should be abolished and different bases should be found. He uses marriage as a
microcosm of that kind of social contract. He is saying: “Men do this to women, corporations do this to employees,
and governments do this to people.” He‟s saying everything about this society is phony. You can be in a high
position in government and bald-facedly lie and get away with it. People will allow it to happen, so that is a false
contract. You can be high up in a corporation and pilfer the pensions of your employees. You can declare
bankruptcy and get away with it, but if you steal from the cash register, you are going to jail.

LK: That certainly describes the present day, doesn‟t it?

DH: Well, he is talking about false social contracts, and, yes, he is saying society has set up this Victorian fantasy.
This whole structure comes from the Industrial Revolution and Darwinism. Darwinism was really distorted;
survival of the fittest was distorted in the nineteenth century to produce robber barons. You are poor because you
are poor; you are not as good and fit a person. I am in control of United States Steel and I will pay you four cents an
hour and I do not care if you die in the mines. In this dog eat dog world the man goes out and works in the hostile
world. He is the champion battling in the forest for the survival of his little family. The wife is the keeper of the
nest and he will provide for her bountifully. In turn, she will nurture him and protect the children in their little
castle. That is what marriage is in the nineteenth century and to some people even now. Actually, what made me
think of doing Doll’s House was the phony issue of gay marriage. It was when that was being used as a major
diversion. We are in a really terrible time. I think, personally, that we are the closest to the destruction of the world
than we have ever been. I suppose every century feels that. I certainly cannot imagine the world not being here in
ten years, but I am not just talking about my earth. We have no health care and we have terrible poverty. Racism is
increasing, homophobia and anti-Semitism. Those things are still being encouraged by certain major forces and
diversions. “Let‟s make this group blame it on the other.” That is a false social contract and exists to keep power in
the hands of people who have it, the people who are making such a mess of things. Marriage was like that in the
nineteenth century. This structures a man‟s life because the man is the worker in this period, in this contract. This
structures his life. He does not have time to say, “I want to start a union. I want this to change.” He is going to kill
himself, come home, have sex, and go back the next day to do more; that keeps everything in place, the social
contract and the lie. So, he is writing your whole life is a lie. You are living in the house for dolls not people.
Wake up! It is not a play about men being awful to women. It is about [the fact that] we have all been put into a
position where we are living in a fantasy which allows everything wrong with the world to continue.

DH: It isn‟t that Wilder seemingly downplays the gender conflict; he is trying to make you see the bigger issues.

LK: That is very interesting because my basis for making that comment was seeing that Wilder had cut out most of
the speeches where Archer said, “men do this” or “women are like this” or whatever. Most of the places where there
are generalizations about men or women, Wilder cut those lines.
                                                                                                                       13


DH: He makes it terribly clear that Torvald actually goes to the office Christmas Day. The guy is working himself
to the bone. I think he makes Torvald more sympathetic because he is a very hard working guy. I think Archer
believes that the scandal of the play is Nora and Torvald‟s fake marriage. But, that is only part of the play. I think
Wilder gets the whole play. The beauty of the experience for me was suddenly seeing how brilliant Ibsen was at
putting an entire world onstage. The scale of what he wrote is huge [while] the scale of a play about marriage is
smaller. But, the scale of a play that says our entire society is a lie and we are all strangling in little fantasies that
isolate us from the major issues that we should be confronting in the world is huge. What he has dramatized is
gigantic, and Wilder gets it. Our production got it; people got it. You felt that you were watching this huge play
with only seven characters. You felt the hugeness of the play, the hugeness of what was being said and discovered.
I think that is Ibsen and Wilder got it. I think he makes you see what the play really is which encompasses gender
roles as one aspect of how we act out our social contract. The ills we do that [deal with] power we do nationally and
to the rest of the world. The “other” of our society, the social contract and the lie, is [the focus] of the play.

LK: Ibsen captures this big world in this play about marriage. What do you make of Wilder going from writing this
conventional fourth wall realism of A Doll’s House to its complete opposite in Our Town? One answer is that Our
Town does that microcosm on a bigger level.

DH: I think that is a great point. I cannot presume to understand Wilder‟s own creativity. He was a genius; I am
not. It would be very tempting for me to say “In doing Doll’s House he discovered how huge an action can be, how
the entire world can be in a moment. He certainly sees that in his script; he makes that happen. Is there a
connection between him writing about one breakfast being an entire life? Perhaps self-consciously or perhaps
consciously. He was so intelligent. Wilder was an intellectual and probably could say to himself, “I want to put the
entire world in one breakfast. I want to put an entire lifetime in a marriage and the making of one breakfast.” He
could possibly do that, get into it, and [accomplish] it as opposed to intellectualizing about it, which would not work.
For most of us so-called “artists,” it is very difficult when you can see something intellectually. It has to involve
instinct and feeling, so you always sort of move toward it. Sometimes you can articulate it before you go,
sometimes you cannot articulate it until half way through, and sometimes you cannot at all. So, was he able
consciously to take what he found in this and then consciously go? He was so intelligent that he was probably able
to say something intellectually then place himself experientially into it and be creative. I do not know.

LK: It is always kind of seen in that sense: That adapting Doll’s House is always presented as his last tune up before
doing his own major works.

DH: Well, it may have been.

LK: The contrast is so stark on the surface between Ibsenian realism and the theatricalism of Wilder‟s Our Town.

DH: The connection I can see between this script and Our Town is the incredible discipline of the writing. There is
not an extraneous beat in this text. Wilder already knows what he is doing. It is very possible that doing the
adaptations was sort of a trip for him. He was probably reading a lot and feeling around a lot while doing his own
writing. He just may have liked the idea of doing them to get in and feel the plays. But, I cannot speak for his
creative process. It is all speculation and it is wonderful to think about; what a writer he was.

LK: What did you think about Krogstad in Wilder‟s version as opposed to Archer‟s version?

DH: I love how he captures Krogstad, and I think he got it exactly right. He is a tremendously sympathetic guy.

LK: That is what I thought he did. He lamented over some of Rank‟s derogatory remarks about Krogstad. I thought
some of Krogstad‟s dialogue comes across as a little nicer, and it seems to me like he is more sympathetic than in
the Archer version.
                                                                                                                      14


DH: That is what Ibsen wrote. I think Wilder gets their ages exactly right. Christina is slightly older than Nora, but
they were at the same school which tells you what kind of small school it was: probably all the girls in one room.
Or, they played games together but Christina was a few years older than Nora. But, they were in school together so
she is not more than four or five years older at the most. As she says to Krogstad, “We are still young girls.”
Krogstad has young children. He is very often played as a middle-aged man and he is not. He is Torvald‟s age, for
he and Torvald were in school together. They all come from the same small town. Then, you have to trace when
Krogstad did this crooked deal. He has said at one point in Wilder‟s version, “In the past eighteen months my
record has been clean and, in a year and a half, he has the job at the bank. He has been able to rebuild and she
becomes interested in why he would do forgeries. Krogstad did nothing worse than Nora, but his life was destroyed
by it. He keeps getting opportunities taken away from him. He made a mistake, but she finally raises the question,
“What if he had to do it if he had no alternative? What if he was trying to save his children?” Well, there are people
who do crimes because they have no choice. They are the people who do go to jail while people who rob pension
funds do not. He is one of those borderline people. He is not as connected as Torvald‟s family [as evident by] their
derogatory [comments] about Nora‟s family. So, he is clearly more of a country club boy while she is more of a
teacher‟s daughter or something. Krogstad was somehow at law school, but he did not have the connections to get a
job in the government which is Torvald‟s first job after their marriage. Krogstad is someone who does not quite
have the country club membership level of society available to him. Mrs. Linden had no other choice but to marry
to keep her mother and brothers alive. She had no choice; she had to do it. Then, her husband dies and the business
collapses, but she is free because her mother is dead and the boys are taking care of themselves. It is not that Mrs.
Linden and Krogstad should have married, it is that they could not. He could not support her. In a different world
they would have been able to marry.

LK: I thought Wilder may have been softening Krogstad up by deleting some of those lines about him.

DH: That is what Ibsen wrote. I think Archer missed it.

LK: I think that made Krogstad‟s what seems to be a transformation, his decision, more plausible.

DH: It is a magical, wonderful scene: “Oh, Christina I‟ve never been so happy in my life.” They are going to be
with each other. She is not going to have a job at the bank the next day unless Torvald is a saint, but I doubt it very
much. So, maybe they will wait tables; they will be ok. They will be better off than emotionally isolated and alone.
That is enormously brave. I suppose they are in their early thirties; he still has a kid, too. But, what are you going to
do? Scream for the rest of your life and be miserable? Open the bar? Or, not spend the rest of your life kicking and
screaming in unhappiness. [Instead], walk away from this world that does not matter. That is what he is writing.
What people often miss in the play is that Torvald and Nora keep looking for a formula. They want an answer.
They want “that‟s wrong, this is right,” “do this and the world will be fine,” but the world is not like that. The world
is in constant adaptation, struggle, and compromise. We all have to be morally responsible. Ibsen said you have to
see the world the way it is. The first step in the moral life is to see what it is. It is not a formula; there is no one
right answer. You do not blow off one set of conventions for another. If men are dominating in the present marital
structure, it would not be better if women dominated; it will just be different. The whole idea is wrong. Marriage is
constant work. Life is constant work. Society is constant work. A society that stops working on itself is going to
die and Mrs. Linden knows that. She is a realist as well as Dr. Rank. For Dr. Rank life is pretty gross. Life is pretty
unhappy and it is not fair. You cannot say “It is not fair and I hate it. I want it to change. I want what Torvald has.
Life is not fair.” You got a raw deal. Mrs. Linden sees that part of Rank. She says, “Poor Dr. Rank. It is not right.
There is no answer.” Rank does a magnificent thing during the cigar scene at the end of the play, his last scene. In
Ibsen, he says, “I just want one of your cigars,” and Torvald gives it to him. Nora says, “Let me light it for you, but,
in Norwegian, there is no word apparently for “match.” The phrase “I‟ll give you a light” in Norwegian is “Let me
give you fire.” A light does not mean a match. Light is what happens when the sun is hot. But the thing a match
does is give fire. So, the line in Norwegian is “Let me give you fire.” With all the connotations, Nora lights the
match and the cigar. Then, Rank does his final thing about the invisible hat [to which Nora responds], “Sleep well
                                                                                                                           15


Dr. Rank. Wish me the same,” and Rank says, “Yes, very well, sleep well.” In Norwegian he is saying “Thank you
for the fire.” Now, can an audience get that in English? If Nora lights that cigar in English and says, “Let me give
you a light,” and then his line is “Thank you for the light,” you have to work like mad to make it clear that he is
thanking her for the emotional warmth. So, what Wilder does which is very daring and it puzzled me until I saw it
on its feet, Rank asks for the cigar, Torvald gives it to him, Torvald says, “I‟ll light it for you,” or “Let me get a
match.” Torvald lights the cigar. The entire scene plays that Torvald has lit the cigar and Nora says, “Goodnight
Dr. Rank. Sleep well.” He then says, “Thank you,” to which she responds, “Wish me the same.” Rank finally ends
with, “Very well, sleep well.” Nora looks at him and says, “Thanks for the light.”

LK: So, he even tries to make the line clearer than that?

DH: Yes, it works. You absolutely get it. The guy who said to her, “I love you,” earlier said, “You are the light in
my life.” Sure, we flirted. Sure, we talked about our sex lives, vulgar things, and prostitutes. It is a very daring
change, but it makes his exit magnificent. It is absolutely clear it is the moment when they say, “I love you.” That
is the kind of adjustment Wilder makes that is, to me, very faithful to Ibsen. It is a cliché to say, “Faithful to the
spirit if not the letter,” but it is not that. It is what Ibsen meant. It is not a whimsical thing, getting the idea of “let
me give you fire back” in the scene.

LK: What about how Wilder renders the children? In the Archer version they do not have any dialogue really, just
stage directions.

DH: You are talking about 1879. I suppose with the exception of possibly Maud Adams, who was a great actress
since she was ten, I think kids were pretty awful. What is always done is they come in, Nora says, “Oh, how are you
darling,” and the kid whispers into her ear. It is like a telephone scene. Put some kid on stage that cannot act. All
they have to do is run to her and Nora will do all the acting. The kids come in bundled up, take off their coats, and
as soon as their boots, coats, hats, and mittens are off, they say all these lines. Afterward, they send them away with
the maid. The kid does not have to do anything. I think Ibsen just said there is no kid that can act, so I will treat
them like props.

LK: So, by Wilder‟s time, you can find some children who can do those lines and so forth?

DH: Sure. I think probably there were kids in Norway who could have done it, too. He just writes it so it is
irrelevant. The guy who played Ivar in Pillars of the Community was just terrible. During the scene with Uncle
Helmer, Ivar, and the little boy, who is a pivotal thing in the play, acts as a boy running away. That is a very
important scene. So, maybe that kid stank and Ibsen said, “Ok, never again.” I do not know.

LK: I just thought the scenes with the children....

DH: These kids are really little, possibly between ten and fifteen. They looked like real stage kids, real trouble.

LK: They were not rocking horse age in the original, you are saying?

DH: Yes. In the original, the kid who played it was older. In Ibsen‟s first cast, there are pictures. Perhaps it was
excruciatingly embarrassing. I do not know. It is one thing if a child is less than two feet tall when you are calling
her “little chubby cheeks” and whispering. It is quite another if she is twelve. So, I think Wilder just went, “No.
We cannot possibly do this. They have to have a real scene.” I initially did not do the scene that is in version three.
I started with version one which was a little shorter. I actually made a cut in it because it was not Ibsen at all. Then,
our kids were quite good. They were the right ages: six and eight. The girl is tiny and was thrilled at the idea of
playing a four year old. Her lovely mother sent me an e-mail after I cast her saying, “She is thrilled at the challenge
of playing a four year old.” The parents were great.
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Eventually, we used the whole scene that is in version three. It is excellent. It has Emmy‟s, “Oh dear, oh dear.”
She is realizing there is a problem. The competition he writes in for the children, Wilder actually gives you a
specific relationship to the kids.

LK: I really thought that was well done. It was realistic and he always does children very realistically whether it is
in Happy Journey, Our Town, or Skin of Our Teeth.

DH: I think he probably had a very good relationship to Isabel. I think they had a full childhood. It is written with
understanding and identity. He did not have any children, but I am sure he had a life-long sibling understanding of
childhood and family structure. [From that] he was able to use it because it is absolutely right on the nose with the
competition and the vying for attention. [Nora] is fussing all over Emmy, “Oh, chubby cheeks. I saw a dog and so
on and so on….” It is wonderful. I was hesitant. “Oh, are you really counting on the children to do something
here?” They had no problem, so they became very real which keeps them in the audience‟s mind through the play.
They go off into the bedroom with the nurse and you know they are there. The Hampton version has an alternative
for the scene which eliminates the children; they are just mentioned. It would be a real loss to the play because it the
continuing of life in the house. Also, with Ellen and the nurse, you get a sense of life in the building and life within
the apartment which is also Ibsen‟s intention, but is often forgotten. You are supposed to be interested in the
Christmas Day supper that is happening off stage at the end of Act II. You are supposed to know where the kitchen
is in relationship to the nursery because Krogstad comes up the backstairs at one point, et cetera.

LK: What about Nora in Wilder‟s version? Do you think she is similar in other versions? Is she different in any
way?

DH: Well, it is like what he did with Torvald. I think Wilder gets it exactly right. There are versions that assume
Nora is an airhead, but she is not. She knows exactly what she is doing. She is just oblivious to the fact that she is
virtually enslaved by it. Nora thinks she is doing a very good job at being a mature, loving wife. She is making [the
marriage] work and doing it well. Nora thinks she has a loving, handsome life partner. [In fact,] she is hysterically
joyous because their money worries are over, and they are going to have a great Christmas. Underneath, there is an
anxiety that is never acknowledged. The Krogstad moment when he suddenly becomes a threat and the anxiety
Nora feels is not just that it is going to upset Torvald terribly, but suddenly, the other anxiety that she cannot
acknowledge or recognize suddenly invades her world. It is not just, “Oh this is really going to upset Torvald.”
Nora is upset about not just the money. Anxiety is hardwired in and unacknowledged. You hit the right button and
all of it comes, and you do not know what it is. In essence, you overreact. So, all the stuff comes flooding in on her
and Nora is first to dance the tarantella; she goes that close to madness. She thinks she is dancing the tarantella
intellectually; she is dancing it to prevent Torvald from reading the letter now. Emotionally, she is losing her mind;
she is almost having a nervous breakdown. Nora makes irrational leaps; the suicide leap is quite irrational. She
asks, “How are you going to solve anything?” Krogstad replies, “I‟ll still have your reputation in my hands.” That
is his most awful scene. He is that close to doing something dastardly. He absolutely takes her on. In essence, he
says, “I really don‟t care if you kill yourself, why should I?” He is right. Why should he? If someone dies and you
want to say, “I don‟t care at all thanks for calling me,” I have not had the experience, but close, it is a horrible thing.
That is Krogstad‟s worst moment; it is the closest he comes to having no soul at all. That is what is going to happen
to him if he does not let go because he cannot win. Mrs. Linden says, “You do not have to win. Why play the
game?” Then, life opens up to him.

Back to Nora. There is nothing to save but she does not know it yet. So, Wilder gets every aspect of the
compromise. He is making its absolutely consistent. She does not go from being insane to suddenly understanding.
She goes from believing that what she is doing is worth something to realizing it is not. She can have fun because
she believes it is worth it. So, Wilder gets the whole depth of the character throughout the play more clearly than I
have seen anyone else do it. Archer does not really get it. How could he? The writing of that play was
                                                                                                                          17


revolutionary. He could see it, but he simplified it. The traditional view of the play is simplistic, it is bigger than
that.

LK: Was Archer British?

DH: Yes.

LK: He wrote his translation ten years after Ibsen‟s play was written in the late 1880‟s.

DH: I am assuming he actually spoke Norwegian. It was the authorized translation. There are some made from
German versions. I would be very surprised if he did not.

LK: Wilder cut out a lot of Nora‟s little monologues. At the beginning of Act II there are a few that are cut. It is
shorter.

DH: There is more of that in his first versions.

LK: You did not try to follow Wilder‟s stage directions with the glass wall?

DH: That is Harris‟s. Wilder would not have designed the set.

LK: What do you think the purpose of the glass wall is? To show people entering and exiting?

DH: The room is not a Norwegian room. The continuing sense of people coming and going happens in the foyer
upstage; he puts it on one side. I think it is probably an elaborate set. But, I saw no reason to copy the design. The
stage directions are from the Harris version; Wilder would not have written those. Some of them are lovely like
where Torvald says at the end, “Life doesn‟t belong.” Harris writes “his last hopeless cry.” That is Harris not
Wilder.

LK: Do you think that is accurate? Torvald is off stage? I thought maybe it was a misprint for Nora?

DH: He hears the door slam and he runs after Nora. You see the room empty, pretty effective. In Harris‟s version,
Torvald runs and throws open the outer doors. You hear him yell, “Nora!” The room is silent and the curtain
slowly closes on an empty doll‟s house. I bet the set worked very well; you do not copy somebody‟s set.

				
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