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Playing to packed 'House' at Stars Playhouse

As a play concludes, audiences often speculate what becomes of the characters after the resolution. For those attending Stars Playhouse this weekend, the answer is on the stage.

The northwest theater will present Ibsen’s seminal 1879 family drama “A Doll’s House” as well as the 2017 “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” in which playwright Lucas Hnath imagines what became of the Helmer family 15 years later, in repertory now through May 21.

David Alvarez, who directs Ibsen’s play, said he was intrigued by being able to present the entire dramatic journey for audiences.

“‘A Doll’s House’ is a classic, with which so many people are familiar,” he wrote in an email. “My interest stemmed from presenting this piece in conjunction with ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ as it tells a larger story of women empowerment, self-awareness, self-fulfillment, and human growth. It’s a story about humans and regular people experiencing life.”

Bethany Lahammer, who directed Hnath’s follow-up, said she wanted to explore these characters “looking at making the best decisions with the information we have and what that decision might mean 15 years later” and facilitate “the collaborative process of the actors finding what’s changed about them, and what has stayed the same reflecting in the physical movement on stage.”

The two directors are longtime collaborators, starting in 2018 when Lahammer cast Alvarez as the title character in “Pippin” at Stars Theater Restaurant. The pair also directed “The Addams Family” at Ovation, “Fun Home” at Bakersfield Community Theatre and various work for Platform Theatre Company in the mental health field. And after these shows conclude, they will team up again for the Playhouse’s “The Gifts of the Magi” in December.

In “A Doll’s House,” Cody Ganger plays Nora, who struggles with her limited role while trying to aid her husband Torvald (John Spitzer).

In “Part 2,” Bethany Rowlee and Matthew Borton take on the roles as the now-estranged couple reunite to finalize the divorce promised at the end of the previous play.

Alvarez said to help connect the two shows, a modern translation of the 1879 play was used, one that does not physically include the couple’s children. (Cheyenne Reyes plays their grown-up daughter, Emmy, in “Part 2.”)

“A modern perspective often demonizes women who walk out on their children, somewhat different to those times when children were often brought up by their nanny in an upper-class household,” Alvarez wrote. “Therefore, choosing a script with less emphasis on the children was about to help us accomplish a specific goal. This goal is to portray both Nora, her husband, and the rest of the characters as real humans with both good and bad qualities in their actions and choices. No one is wholly good or wholly bad, a theme that can be recognized regardless of the time period.”

Delving into that parental relationship, Lahammer said her favorite scene in “Part 2” is when Nora meets her daughter as an adult.

“It’s the only time we see Nora truly off-balance and unsure of herself, which is a fantastic contrast in the show,” she wrote. “Cheyenne, who plays Emmy, masters being clever and condescending, linking her perfectly to her mother and father, with the vulnerability of a daughter meeting her mother for the first time.”

The directors set up a lot of dramatic connective tissue between the shows to enhance the viewing experience.

“There are many references to both shows in the other show,” Alvarez wrote. “Audiences will see the entire story versus only one half.”

“The first show will set up the characters for where they’ve been, the struggles they are facing internally, the issues they are working through. The second show offers a look into how they’ve worked through that, who they’ve become, and what that journey to self-discovery may have looked like.”

Two Double Doll Days on May 7 and 14 will present both shows in one day, with a midshow event with live music, charcuterie by CHEYcuterie, champagne and talk-back with the actors of “A Doll’s House.” After the conclusion of “Part 2,” the theater will hold an after-party event with dessert and a talk-back with the actors of that production.

For those who can’t make a day of it at the theater, each show will be presented in alternating 2 or 7:30 p.m. time slots for the duration of the run. (See box for full schedule.)

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.