Monday, February 23, 2009

Mabou Mines DollHouse


By Henrik Ibsen. Directed by Lee Breuer. Mabou Maines at St. Ann's Warehouse. (CLOSED)

Mabou Mines' famous reimagining of Ibsen's proto-feminist classic returns to Brooklyn after a world tour (it first debuted there in 2003). Critics do more than simply "get" the show's deconstructive conceits--actual little people in the male roles opposite full-sized women, a miniaturized set, a self-consciously melodramatic performance style--they positively revel in its provocations, and, a few quibbles aside, even find them revelatory.

CurtainUp A
(Jenny Sandman) The "illusion" of Ibsen's structure is rendered quite literally in Mabou Mines' DollHouse. All the women, inclding Nora, are over six feet tall. All the men are cast dwarfs. And Death is taller than them all...This is a breathtaking production, revealing the full genius of director Lee Breuer...and his company Mabou Mines. While it is three hours long, every moment is filled—with sight gags, with sounds, with fresh perspectives. Sometimes a production can turn a classic play completely inside out and somehow reveal the play's true nature, which is exactly what happens here. Nora is rendered vital and modern, while we feel the true extent of her repression. It's simultaneously a deconstruction, parody and homage to Ibsen's classic, and plumbs depths of emotion I've never seen in any other production of this play...It may be the only Ibsen production I've ever fully enjoyed.

Show Showdown A
(Wendy Caster) A brilliant, thrilling, superb, eye-opening, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, entertaining night in the theatre...Supports and illuminates the original work by physicalizing the entrapment of late-19th-century women as they distort themselves, inside and out, in desperate attempts to fit into the emotional doll houses in which they must live...The funniest scenes can be the most chilling, and vice versa.

Backstage A-
(Adam R. Perlman) Thoroughly entertaining...In case you're wondering what the secret ingredient is, I'll tell you: midgets. Nora is Gulliver in a land of Lilliputians. It's pretty obvious what this is meant to unlock...Adding to the mise en scène, the dollhouse here exists in a silent-movie world where prancing and snarling are status quo. With an assist from the music of Eve Beglarian and the choreography of Eamonn Farrell (developed with Martha Clarke), major monologues become small spotlit star turns. To be sure, there are tradeoffs in such a highly stylized presentation. It's hard to fight through the alienation to care about any of these characters, and it's nigh impossible to believe in any changes they make...But the real treat is Mark Povinelli's towering Torvald. Equal parts lust and disgust, he's the type of tiny tyrant you might struggle to slam the door on.

New York A-
(Boris Kachka) It's almost impossible to re-create the shock Ibsen's A Doll's House once elicited; challenging the patriarchy doesn't cut it anymore. But the Mabou Mines troupe has been managing it ever since DollHouse debuted at St. Ann's Warehouse, in 2003 (where it returns this week after a world tour.) Casting the male roles with actors under five feet tall, the company delivered the ultimate surprise: an avant-garde gimmick that works on almost every level. B+
(Nicole Bournas-Ney) Lee Breuer and Mabou Mines attempt to take Ibsen's seminal work both forward and backward in time simultaneously, staging what can only be called a post-feminist melodrama. For the most part, the company does an excellent job of creating a unified and compelling production, but occasionally this challenge causes the production to lose its balance...The cast of this production is stellar...Maude Mitchell, whose Nora is the lynchpin of the a really excellent performance...The weakness of this production is its very long first act...This production is worth seeing, if for no other reason (and there are many other reasons), than to experience a jaw-dropping example of how much an artist can change a play, and explore his or her own vision, while barely changing the original text at all. Seeing a bald and nude Nora talking about women's self-sacrifice with the familiar line, "Thousands of women do it every day," certainly alters, in an exhilarating way, the traditional identity of Ibsen's play as a staple of classic Western drama.

New York Post B+
(Frank Scheck) Performed on a stunning set that resembles a, yes, dollhouse--including small-scale furniture on which the women literally have to contort themselves--it provides an ironic visual metaphor for Ibsen's classic examination of male domination. Whether that brilliant conceit is enough to sustain the show's nearly three-hour running time is another question. Undeniably audacious and imaginative, "DollHouse" is probably more fun to think about afterward than to actually sit through...Not everything works. But for every audacious idea that exasperates, another enthralls. And when the actors are allowed to settle down, they often deliver moments of brilliant intensity...And when Nora makes her famous exit, the devastating effect it has on the husband and children she leaves behind is more powerful than in any traditional production I've ever seen.

Time Out NY B+
(Helen Shaw) This visual correlative for Ibsen’s 1879 diagnosis of the modern marriage packs an unusually contemporary punch. Without “updating,” Breuer emphasizes how couples can cosset and diminish each other, how baby talk corrupts even the strong. Sadly, in exploding one set of sexual clichés, Breuer lights the fuse on a host of height-based stereotypes. The show works (even after a wearying six years on the road): DollHouse still stuns with its cleverly melodramatic affectations, Narelle Sissons’s crimson Victoriana set and a mind-blowing operatic conclusion. But Povinelli and the other little people in the cast are symbols first, people second. Breuer undercuts erotic moments with stale stagehand humor and makes easy equations (small = childlike), and Povinelli responds by forcing his performance. Mitchell’s work, though, remains a miracle—it is her staggering prowess as an actor that towers over us.

CurtainUp A 13; Show Showdown A 13; Backstage A- 12; New York A- 12; B+ 11; New York Post B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; TOTAL: 83/7=11.87 (A-)

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