Caitlin O'Connell never owned a doll house as a child, but as an adult she has been lucky enough to occupy one twice -- as Nora, the heroine of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll House."
The ebullient blond actress first played Nora more than a decade ago when she was a junior at San Diego State University. She will assume the role again starting tonight at Center Stage.
"It was the first big part I ever did in college. I appreciate the opportunity to get to do it again -- maybe a little better this time," she said on a recent morning before rehearsals.
One reason she may feel more comfortable now is that Center Stage is using a new translation of the 1879 Norwegian script by Rick Davis, Center Stage's associate artistic director, and Brian Johnston, adapted by director Jackson Phippin and, to a certain extent, custom-tailored for this cast.
"If there are words you can't quite get your mouth around, they'll make changes," Ms. O'Connell explains. "There are expressions that don't quite translate into our ears, so we ask for deletions or reasonable facsimiles."
The most obvious change is the title, which is usually inaccuratedly translated "A Doll's House." However, as dramaturge Lisa A. Wilde explains, Ibsen meant that "everyone in the house is living a doll-life, based on illusions."
To Ms. O'Connell, the play, which is often seen as a feminist tract, is more concerned with the broader themes of self-awareness and self-knowledge. "In a way, he was talking about civil rights," she says. "Although this was a very revolutionary play, I don't think it's lost much of its significance. I still think a lot of the same battles are being fought."
The California native has played a number of leading roles at Center Stage, including Alexandra in "O Pioneers!", Nan in "The Film Society," and Ulla in "There's One in Every Marriage." And in a way, she feels Nora is most similar to Feydeau's farcical Ulla.
"Ibsen wasn't just writing about issues, Ibsen was also talking about relationships, and Nora and [her husband] Torvald have a lot of games, a lot of fun on a superficial level," she says, adding that she expects the audience to find humor in the production -- in Nora and Torvald's silly games, as well as "laughs of recognition."
The same sort of nervous laughter was generated by the last serious drama in which she appeared -- Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. (A former resident of Silver Spring, Ms. O'Connell now lives in Milwaukee, where her husband, Peter Hackett, is a member of the theater faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.)
During the final performance of "Bernarda Alba," Ms. O'Connell sprained her ankle and chipped a bone in her foot in an accident backstage. She changed shoes, took some ibuprofen, and went back on stage. "Luckily, my character limped on that leg," she says.
Two days later, she arrived at Center Stage -- on crutches -- for the start of rehearsals for "A Doll House." Fortunately, the cast spent the first week and a half seated around a table working on the translation. By now she's as spry as ever. And that's as it should be; after all, as she says, "Nora has this kind of natural strength."
'A Doll House'
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m., matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Through Feb. 2.
Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.