Audiences expecting to see Henrik Ibsen's realist masterpiece set in 1879 Copenhagen will be surprised to find something onstage that feels much closer to home. Under the direction of Jeanie Forte, the remade "Doll's House" will be set in America, in the last days of 1959, with lead character Nora Helmer cast in the homemaker role of that era.
The play, which premiers Jan. 19 and runs through Feb. 4, follows the decline of the marriage between Nora and her husband Torvald, which in turn gives way to an inner awakening in Nora. The play was shocking in its time because Nora's empowerment and the decision she makes in its wake — referred to as "the door slam heard round the world" — was the most profoundly feminist statement yet seen on European stages.
Forte said that while gender equality has made leaps and bounds since Ibsen penned his masterpiece, the play has important themes that still resonate today.
"I think the same kinds of societal censures are still in place," she said. "I know a woman who left her family, and people were horrified; she was ostracized. People might think the play is dated, but it really isn't."
Forte, who has directed numerous plays at the Pear, said she decided to change the time and setting in order to enhance the power of the play for a modern audience.
"I wanted to update it and bring it forward in time. When it's set in the 1950s, the audience can relate to it better and see it as something that is still relevant."
"A Doll's House" was particularly unique in its time for focusing on a female protagonist. The part of Nora has become a rite of passage for actresses, and Shannon Stowe, in her fourth Pear Theatre production, felt some of the weight of that responsibility on her shoulders.
"It's a role that I've always wanted to do. It's one of those roles for female actresses — like a Hamlet or something. It feels daunting."
Stowe said the 1950s setting didn't make her feel too tied down to theatrical tradition surrounding "Doll's House," because "we're not going by anyone else's expectations. I feel like we can take a whole new look at it."
For her part, Forte said the chance to direct Stowe as Nora was one of the original reasons she was drawn to the production.
"She's a wonderful actress from the outset, but she also has these great qualities that are perfect for Nora. She has sexiness and a little-girl quality."
The Pear cultivates longstanding relationships with performers, and Forte said working with a close-knit group is "part of the joy" of working there.
Since 2001, the Mountain View theater company has sought to distinguish itself with innovative productions. With just 40 seats, the diminutive size of the Pear Theatre necessitates smaller productions and a limited cast size. It also provides a more intimate experience for cast and audience alike.
"There is very little separation between stage and house," Forte said. "You make use of the intimacy and you heighten it."
She likens the Pear to an off-Broadway venue, where edgy, contemporary pieces are shown and where there's the chance to re-envision classics like "A Doll's House."
"It's seeing theater like you've never seen it before," Forte said. "Very few people on the Peninsula have the chance to see theater this way."
What: The Pear Avenue Theatre presents "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen
When: Jan. 19-Feb. 4, Thursdays through Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m.
Where: The Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View
Contact: Call the box office at (650) 254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org