It may or not be a coincidence, but this imbalance of power resonates with the current economic phenomena in America of the 1% ruling the 99%. Entertaining and provocative, this quick-witted and dreamlike evening of theater suggests that imbalances of power sacrifice individual freedoms and love. Everyone becomes a doll (master and servant) in a doll society.
Mabou Mines DollHouse. Adapted from A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Conceived and directed by Lee Breuer. Original music & a collage of Edvard Grieg’s piano works assembled by Eve Beglarian. At the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston, MA, through November 6.
By Erica H. Adams.
Kinetic, raucous, and hyperactive, the Boston premiere of DollHouse by the experimental ensemble Mabou Mines’ blows up Henrik Ibsen’s spare, polemical A Doll’s House (1879) with exhilarating, hallucinatory abandon. Ibsen’s play was less about 19th-century marriage norms and feminism than the assertion of individual rights. However, MacArthur Prize-winning director Lee Breuer turns DollHouse into a farcical exploration of the imbalance of power in a critique of patriarchy that plays with exaggerated perceptions of scale. Visually, Breuer makes his point by casting nearly six foot tall women who are manipulated by small men, their height about four feet tall. The latter were convincingly played by Kristopher Medina as Torvald Helmer, Nic Novicki as Nils Krogstad, and Joey Gnoffo as Dr. Rank.
Through their commanding gestures, the small men grew or shrunk in stature on stage—sometimes rising and falling at the same time, surely Breuer’s intent, given that the the women are often on their knees. The idea to cast “little people” as a way to undermine the illusion of authority occurred to director Lee Breuer (74) decades after he saw this ploy in Bertholt Brecht’s comic adaptation Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.
Breuer said of DollHouse that “It’s virtually a cartoon. And yet, at the same time, it’s tragic because it [masculine domineering] works.” Inequality is visible in many details. After Nora leaves her husband, she stands in a box seat above the stage, her frontal nudity soaring above Torvald, who is lying on top of their bed. His is power hidden, while hers is stripped bare, faux-heroic, his and her lines turned into an opera—it is a brilliant way to handle the now dated climax of the play.
It may or not be a coincidence, but this imbalance of power resonates with the current economic phenomena in America of the 1% ruling the 99%. Entertaining and provocative, this quick-witted and dreamlike evening of theater makes a serious point—imbalances of power sacrifice individual freedoms and love because everyone becomes a doll (master and servant) in a doll society.
Maude Mitchell masterfully plays Torvald’s doll-like wife Nora with crazed perfection. Nora’s shrill, relentless hysteria is quietly ignited by the lyrical gravity of Edvard Grieg’s piano works assembled by Eve Beglarian. Puppetry in this lampoonish, overturned melodrama serves as a kind of shadow world that, in the second half, holds a mirror up to the audience. The play within a play suggests that we are the real puppets.
The stage set’s Gustavian rococo reflects Nora’s excessive temperament, ablaze in her hot house, miniaturized cocoon. The scale is suited to the small men who dominate her. Nora is kept on her knees, literally, frantic to conform, against ludicrous odds that finally awaken her to the fact that she is simply going to have to go out and create a home for herself—it is no place for a human being.
Thus this excessive romp also presents a stinging indictment of the ways we objectify each other today. In the end, both the powerful and powerless lose. This run will conclude the nine year, international run of DollHouse. If you are interested in an adventurous theatrical experience—imaginative, political, exhilarating, and challenging, take in this production by one of America’s leading experimental directors and writers.