The following review is courtesy of Marcus Young, Minneapolis-based artist
Some notes from Friday night’s Mabou Mines DollHouse.
The pianist, a woman, takes a deep solo bow center stage before beginning the overture..odd. Red curtains drip into place portending a large sadness. Be aware a play is starting.
Tall women, small men. A larger-than-life live piano plays for a miniature stage piano. Self-consciously melodramatic acting immediately followed by moments of heartfelt, heart-breaking delivery. It’s all out of proportion and mismatched.
For the first two acts all the quirks are strangely balanced. Punch lines land with light winks. Moods shift as quickly as opening a dollhouse window. The energy was of a three-ring circus. Strong man, fat woman, animal-tamers, jugglers, all coordinated into a soft-shoe dance. Add exaggerated Norwegian accents, cheap physical gags, and a wild dream sequence, and the show was buoyant. If after a long while the game became a little predictable, Maude Mitchell’s emotionally available Nora would come to the rescue. It was her tense and prolonged silence in act two, which we knew was killing her, that stole our hearts for good.
Playing with a dollhouse is inherently clumsy. Furniture moves out of place. Things topple over, but Lee Breuer wants it all to fall apart. Ibsen’s play, however, is neatly structured. Whereas Breuer and cast breathe beautiful, updated life into the play for the first two acts, the last act is burdened with unnecessary responsibility to be serious. The text is sacrificed for spectacle. The soft-shoe goes beyond tarantella and attempts grand opera.
Yes, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with it’s door slam heard around the world, is an important work about women’s independence, so I imagine the director wanted to pull out all the stops for the last ten minutes. That’s probably why the set transformed, came alive and began acting. The music, no longer underscore, took center stage and was acting. The lip sync was acting, the nudity was acting, the pianist was acting, and even the director was acting. The actors’ acting and the text were lost, up against larger and larger theatrical gestures.
Powerful lines like “ I don’t love you anymore” didn’t move me. Torvald asks, “ Where are you going?” Nora responds, “ To take off my costume,” but now the double meanings are gone. The final moments of the show were epic but without emotional intensity and release.
I return to earlier moments in the play. The live piano plays for the actor playing the fake miniature piano. Nora comforts her small Torvald embracing him like a doll. Many times I acknowledged the artifice yet allowed it to play me anyway. There, Breuer and Ibsen were in conversation. The balance was such that I could hear both of them, and they both had good things to say.