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'Doll's House' tackles the unexamined life

Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" comes to the Sheldon Theatre stage March 23. The Commonweal Theatre Company production is touring the state before opening a three-month run in Lanesboro, Minn.

It's been generations since women first rebelled against their status, but their actions remain relevant still today, according to Commonweal Theatre Company creative personnel.

They wrestled with relevance when they took on "A Doll's House," the Henrik Ibsen play Commonweal actors will perform March 23 at the Sheldon Theatre.

Nora, the play's heroine, is a wife and mother of the late 19th Century, when women did not have the right to vote, to own property or to even be considered persons of standing in financial or legal affairs, director Hal Cropp explained.

"Divorce was all but unheard of, and surely no self-respecting woman would abandon her children," he added.

Yet that is exactly the tough decision Nora faces.

"I believe that its universality lies in our general complacency with the conditions in which we exist," Cropp said. Ibsen wanted to live in a society where "no behavior, no choice, no life is lived without constant questioning of the assumptions surrounding it."

"A Doll's House" is not just about what happened in a 19th century sitting room, he said. It seeks to capture the essence of the society in which Nora lived and her unique situation.

"What remains is a truly compelling, disturbing, yet ultimately satisfying tale of a human being coming to a deep understanding of her own situation and finding the courage to change," according to Cropp.

Nora is not the only character who is challenged to examine her life, Commonweal manager Megan Pence pointed out.

"Each character ... is faced with examining his or her own life and then acting accordingly," Pence said. "Ibsen himself wishes for us to take that journey and have the courage to stand up and live as true human beings."

Ibsen was an international celebrity in the 1860s, having had huge success with plays including "Peer Gynt." During what is referred to as his "second period," he created more realistic dramas that earned him the title "Father of Modern Drama."

"A Doll's House," written in 1879, pioneered new dramatic ground because it was founded on social issues of the day, Cropp wrote.

Stef Dickens is cast as Nora Helmer, and Daniel Stock plays her husband, Torvald. Jeremy van Meter is Nils Krogstad; David Hennessey is Dr. Rank; Megan Pence is Christine Linde and Carla Joseph is Anna. The two-act play takes place at Christmastime in the Torvald home.

The Commonweal Theatre, located in Lanesboro, Minn., is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a nonprofit, professional theater company.

It mounted its first Ibsen production in 1998, acknowledging the high concentration of Scandinavian families in a town just 35 miles from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

A five-year commitment to perform Ibsen's works grew into an annual Ibsen Festival, which will celebrate its 16th year this April. Currently it is the only professional theater company in the country that maintains a commitment to the works of Ibsen.

For the past three years, Twin Cities-based playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has collaborated with Commonweal to create new American adaptations of Ibsen's work -- including "A Doll's House" and the upcoming 2014 production of "Brand."

"A Doll's House" is touring six Minnesota cities before returning to Lanesboro for a three-month run. Red Wing is the second stop on the tour; the play opened in Thief River Falls and travels next to Brainerd, Grand Rapids, Stoughton, Wis., and Faribault.

"This is an exciting opportunity to broaden the Commonweal's impact," said Cropp, who also is the company's interim executive director.

"The Ibsen tour allows us to bring our knowledge of, and dexterity with, the playwright known as the Father of Modern Drama to audiences who otherwise may not be able to come to our theater because of the geographical distance.

"This way, our theater can fulfill its potential as a cultural asset not just for southeastern Minnesota, but for the entire state."

In addition to support from Minnesota's arts and cultural heritage fund, the 2013 tour and Ibsen Festival also are supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

For more information about the theater and festival, visit or call 800-657-7025.

If you go ...

Who: Commonweal Theatre Company

What:"A Doll's House"

When: 7 p.m. March 23

Where: Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.

How much: $20.50 adults, $13.50 students

More info:, 651-388-8700 or 800-899-5759