WELCOME TO THE DOLL HOUSE
Our pals at gothamist have a great interview with Lee Breuer, downtown theater legend and director of DOLL HOUSE, currently finishing up its reprise run at St. Ann’s Warehouse. I didn’t get to see the show in its first incarnation, but I ran into a Mabou Mines-er at the show tonight who said it was tighter and more polished now than ever before.
And let me tell you – this was an amazing show. Kind of like Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s NO DICE in the way that the first act was awesome in its own way but then the second act just kind of blows your mind completely out of your skull.
Breuer & Co. simultaneously re-invent and faithfully adapt Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The Mabou Mines theatrical toolbox is not short of magic tricks and professional know-how, after 38 some odd years of doing their thing, they’ve got it down. But that doesn’t mean they’re resting on their laurels or are satisfied with the same-old, same-old. Their spirit is the true theatrical spirit of constant interrogation, investigation and exploration. They’re discovering new ways to surprise themselves and the audience into seeing the truth behind the lies of theatricality.
Breuer & Co. succeed in reinventing “melodrama” in a post-modern, nightmarish funhouse aesthetic that makes the pathos and hilarity ring true in beautiful and striking ways. Witness Nora cooing like a little songbird, switching from conniving to wily to innocent passion-driven plaything. The startling nudity of “little people” unclothed. The eery music, the self-referential and tragically self-aware comedy. The tangible lust and role play, the dance of desired and desiring.
Truly astonishing, surprising and rewarding – it feels as shocking and enlightening as one must imagine the original felt to audiences at the dawn of the 20th century in the conservative, emotionally repressed and eminently moralistic Norway of the time.
Part carnival, part domestic tragedy, Mabou Mines’ DOLL HOUSE is, among many things, a testament to why “mainstream” theater seems so dead and lifeless. Hedda Gabler on Broadway, Cherry Orchard at BAM, a recent “avant-garde” deconstruction of Ibsen I saw downtown (not naming names!)…. there’s no sense of life, no sense of surprise, no sense of revelation, risk and danger.
It is difficult, we know, to find a balance between formal innovation and the “emotional truth” that actors are so fond of. God knows the world could do with a lot less “acting” – there’s something to be said for just getting “actors” to show up, shut up and deliver their friggin’ lines. So much “acting” is just a crime against humanity. But then there are those moments, those startling moments where actors find the truth in the absurd, when they move beyond “the real” and into “the true” – that aesthetic plane beyond what we recognize as reality, where we subjectively engage with timeless experiential “fact” – frequently cloaked as fantasy or dream or improbability. It is out there beyond the real where truth resides and artists have to break through the illusions of the real to help us see beyond what we think we know.
And this DOLL HOUSE does that. It rips your face off and thrusts you into the ever-expanding transcendent now through a delicate, surreal balance of particularism, specificity and absurdity. If you can still get a ticket, go.
Of all the theater companies from the 70’s and 80’s, only a few have been able to maintain aesthetic, intellectual and topical relevance. With DOLL HOUSE Mabou Mines demonstrates that they still have a lot to say, that they’re still pushing the edge (in fact they’ve been living their for years) and they’ve still got a thing or two to teach today’s theater-makers.