Anything goes

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House debuted in 1879 amid scandal and controversy, shunned by many for its bleak view of the roles that Victorian marriage forced women to play. What was once shocking is now old hat, but in Mabou Mines Dollhouse, director Lee Breuer gives contemporary audiences something fresh to talk about with his avant-garde staging of Ibsen’s melodramatic morality play.

Most immediately striking about the Mabou Mines production, which premiered in New York in 2003 and is still evolving on tour, is how it plays with scale, turning Ibsen’s metaphor of marriage as dollhouse into a literal setting. As Nora, the play’s heroine, actress Maude Mitchell is dolled up in a blue-and-white costume (her daughter and her daughter’s doll appear in miniature versions of the same dress) and a china-doll face. Her voice—Lucille Ball doing a Norwegian accent—is as squeaky and mannered as a talking doll’s, and her movements are equally akimbo. At almost six feet, Nora is a long drink of water, as are the other females in the play. In contrast, Breuer has cast small actors—ranging in height from 3’4” to 4’5"—in the men’s roles, and the women must bend, crawl, and kneel to descend to the childlike level their menfolk expect.

Although many lines are played for laughs that most directors of Ibsen would work hard to avoid, the sight gags and bawdy humor don’t make the evening’s truly operatic ending any less tragic—or shocking—than it was back in Ibsen’s day.

A coproduction of Court Theatre and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Mabou Mines Dollhouse runs through Sunday, December 18, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.


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Ibsen meets Mabou Mines (left to right): Actors 1. Honora Ferguson, Maude Mitchell, Mark Povinelli, and Ricardo Gil get cut down to size; the Helmers (Maude Mitchell as Nora and Mark Povinelli as Torvald) share a marital tête-à-tête—and wax operatic before an audience of dolls.

Photos by Richard Termine.

December 11, 2005