Dallas — On a quiet Monday evening down West Seventh Street in the Bishop Arts District, a woman kneels on the sidewalk to letter a chalkboard in front of a white staircase flocked with greenery. People can rent this house by the hour to get married or have a garden party; there are string lights in the trees out back, over aisles of turf between rows of chairs and wooden benches.
The venue is called House of DIRT. The woman drawing with chalk is an owner; I find this out later. Her name Sonya Eudaley and she runs the adjacent luxury floral business DIRT, too, with her husband. Tonight she is attending to the space before the newly formed womxn-focused Lily & Joan Theatre Company rehearses one last time before its first-ever performance. In a cutesy turn, they’re opening the season with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in which a forest is a central setting, and a play is performed for a wedding party. The contemporary adaptation opens tonight and runs through Saturday. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and half the proceeds will go to Genesis Women’s Shelter. A hallmark of Lily & Joan’s premise is to contribute funds from each show to an organization that supports womxn.
Eudaley’s in the business of parties, but she opened House of DIRT with theatre in mind, she tells me later. I know she studied drama at Texas Woman’s University because a founder of Lily & Joan excitedly told me so when we talked earlier that day. Emily Faith credited the Eudaleys’ help in hosting the company’s first fundraiser last year—“The Secret Garden”—as a major sustainer already. The bleached farmhouse interior is dripping with flowers; they climb windows and hang from ceilings. In the performance yard, candles line the aisles that lead to the stage, flickering as the sun set on run of show Monday.
“I liked that [House of DIRT] was a space anyone can step inside,” Faith says. “Oak Cliff and Bishop Arts have become such a supportive community, our home base, and we hoped people who came to the fundraiser would be able to walk to the first show.”
When considering the season ahead, it was obvious Midsummer had found a perfect home at House of DIRT. A main focus of this company’s forming is to highlight the talent of female, female-identifying or non-binary theatre artists; in Midsummer, there are no male players in the productions.
Company member Alle Malia Mims has played more men than women in Shakespeare plays, she says. The process of learning the romantic male lead Demetrius, though, illuminated all the characters in a different way for Mims.
In the scene in which Helena breaks down at Demetrius’ refusal, a line stuck out as Mims channeled the man’s attempts to get his pursuer to leave: “I do not nor I cannot love thee.”
“I don’t want to play it where he really hates Helena. He’s betrothed to Hermia,” Mims says. “He was bound by duty to be with Hermia. We’ve all been there. I have these feelings but I can’t confront them; I act the way I don’t feel in order to get over them.”
Relating to the characters across lines of gender and layers of accepted social norms is an experience Mims says she’s been relieved to have. Open conversation with Faith, who’s directing the production, was key.
“It really hasn’t been that big of a stretch for any of the cast,” Mims says. “There is so much of that character inside them anyway—from the first read-through, gender doesn’t even come into it. What is gender? Who even knows what this person is—or what I am?”
For those who’ll watch this man-less commentary on universal flights of love at a wedding venue, that question will echo from the moment they follow Eudaley’s chalk arrow toward the door.