by Nancy Churnin, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, a play about a housewife named Nora who rebels against the unequal treatment she receives as a woman, sent shockwaves when the play premiered in 1879.
And it's still making waves, as is Lucas Hnath's ambitious 2017 Broadway sequel, A Doll's House, Part 2, which pictures Nora returning home 15 years after she slams the door on her husband and children.
Now Dallas-Fort Worth audiences will get a chance to see both plays in overlapping runs directed by women at theaters helmed by women.
In fact, the two companies — WaterTower Theatre in Addison and Stage West in Fort Worth — are offering discounts in order for patrons to see both shows. WaterTower's A Doll's House starts previews Oct. 12 and opens Oct. 15 at Addison Theatre Centre. A Doll's House, Part 2 starts previews Oct. 25 and opens Oct. 27.
A full-day experience is being offered on Nov. 3 for theatergoers who want to see A Doll's House at WaterTower at 2 p.m., followed by a talkback. The event continues with a dinner at Stage West at 6:30, followed by A Doll's House, Part 2 at 8.
A Doll's House, Part 2 has become the most produced play in regional theaters, according to a September survey by American Theater magazine. While A Doll's House has never gone out of fashion, Joanie Schultz, artistic director of WaterTower Theatre, didn't anticipate how much of a live wire it would be when she decided to adapt and direct it.
"I think what Nora is going through in this play has so many parallels to things I'm reading in the news right now," Schultz says. And while Schultz is careful not to make any political parallels, it's hard to miss the intersection between a play about a woman protesting against an entrenched power structure and the current #MeToo movement where women are speaking up about men taking advantage of powerful positions to try to silence them from reporting or getting justice for sexual harassment.
"I have so much admiration for Nora," Schultz says. "She is one of the bravest characters in all of drama. She's not the most educated. She's not the wisest. But she wakes up and she decides to act. In the moment of waking up, we have choices and she makes brave ones. I find her really inspiring."
Current events have also had an impact on the perspective Clare Shaffer, a newcomer from Washington, D.C., is bringing to her North Texas directing debut of A Doll's House, Part 2.
Like Schultz, Shaffer doesn't make political references, but she sees current instances of women being dismissed or overlooked as fitting into a larger pattern that's been in existence since, well, long before A Doll's House struck a nerve in 1879.
"Something that we were discussing in rehearsal that has been very liberating and exciting for me is the way the play helps you put a finger on the root of a prejudice," Shaffer says. "When I was growing up, I remember the times when I was in a room full of men and I felt talked over. I felt my voice was not heard as clearly. It doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel right. You think at first it must be an individual experience. It must just be me. Part of the power of #MeToo is that we realize that these are shared experiences, that there's a broader structure of systems that are in place that make these things happen."
While the popularity of A Doll's House and A Doll's House, Part 2 is a testament to how far we have to go, the strong role that women are taking in interpreting these stories for local audiences gives Shaffer hope that things may be improving.
It helps, too, Shaffer says, that instead of Schultz and Dana Schultes, executive producer of Stage West, competing with their overlapping shows, the two women have found a way to amplify the productions and make sure both Noras are heard loud and clear, from Addison to Fort Worth.
"It does feel like a crescendo," Shaffer says. "It feels like voices are getting louder and louder speaking out about inequality and how the experience of being a woman is intrinsically different from the experience of being a man."
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