Dedicated to staging renown plays dating from around a century ago, the aptly named Classical Theatre Company sheds light on women’s societal roles in 19th century Norway with its production of Henrik Ibsen’s iconic A Doll’s House.
While today’s Western world is much more progressive than the conservative period in which A Doll’s House takes place, the gender gap is still a relevant matter that is constantly addressed in culture. Director John Johnston wants the play to open the eyes of more people to the injustices that women still face today.
“I hope that [the audience] can leave and say, ‘I understand why they produced this play and we still have a lot of work to do in terms of gender equality,’” Johnston says.
The 1879 opus chronicles the story of Nora Helmer, a wife and mother of three, who feels trapped in her life as the family matriarch during an era of traditionalism when women were not given equal opportunities as men. The protagonist seeks her own individualism and freedom from a world that seems to suffocate her humanity.
Since many of the centuries-old plays that Classical Theatre has generally have male-dominated casts, it was important to Johnston that the company stages a show with a strong female narrative—and he also noticed that A Doll’s House is seldom produced on Houston stages.
The production’s concept of gender inequality can also be connected to today’s performing arts community. It has been argued that there is a disparity between the number of multidimensional leading roles available to women and the ample amount of parts written for men. And, the director notes, the problem also can be found behind the scenes.
“There is a heavy skew towards male directors and playwrights,” he explains. “Both of those are trending in a better direction than say, 10, 20 years ago—but it’s something that we still need to make progress on.”
A Doll’s House, with its bold, enlightened heroine at odds with her archaic world, gives insight into feminism within early theatrical works. Johnston, like Ibsen, believes that although the plot is centered around a woman’s plight in Victorian-era Europe, the play can leave a profound impact on anyone, regardless of gender.
“Towards the end of the play, Nora mentions something about being treated like a human,” Johnston recalls. “It can be seen through the scope of creating true equality for everyone.”
Feb 3–21. $10–25. Classical Theatre Company, 4617 Montrose Blvd. 713-963-9665. classicaltheatre.org