There comes a moment in every woman’s life where she wakes from her childlike innocence and realizes she is bigger than all that surrounds her. And that moment is clearly defined and echoed throughout Mabou Mines DollHouse, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Lee Breuer.
Mabou Mines DollHouse is a visually stunning performance piece that will keep you on the edge of your seat in wonderment as the play evolves. The show opens with Nora coming home with a Christmas present for her children – a life-size doll house. Enter Torvald, her husband, Dr. Rank, the family’s best friend, and Krogstad, a fiendish villain. The men of this tale are portrayed by actors who are no taller than the children, creating a captivating performance where the notion that Nora is larger than life can actually be seen.
Director Lee Breuer conceptualizes the notion of the dollhouse being a man’s world, a patriarchal society where woman does not fit with his choice in casting only little people in the roles of the men. It creates a visual paradox as Nora, (played by Maude Mitchell) is often constrained to crawling across the stage to more suitably contain herself in her husband’s world.
With a phenomenal set designed by Narelle Sissons, the play opens with long red curtains slowly descending to block of parts of the stage. It creates a feeling of enclosure. And then the dollhouse is unfolded; the walls creating a border that confines the actions of the play. Sissons highlights this theme further by using furniture in miniature; rocking horses and tea cups suited for a child, yet Mitchell uses them as if they were her every day household furnishings. Even the outline of the dollhouse casts dark shadows against the backdrop of the curtains; encroaching upon the space to make it feel even smaller.
Working in tandem with the miniature set is the frantic lighting, designed by Mary Louise Geiger. Throughout the play as moments of chaos unfold – a trance of strobe lights sweep the stage. Geiger uses this technique to highlight the pandemonium that has spilled forth from Nora’s head and into the literal world of the dollhouse. Together, Geiger and Sissons create an atmosphere of minuteness, projecting the notion of Nora’s belittlement onto the stage – even the teacups are done in miniature, making drinking from them seem like child’s play.
One particular moment that stands out so shockingly occurs when death – a woman on stilts over three feet high with a gruesome skeleton mask – steps over the top of the dollhouse and into it to retrieve Dr. Rank (played by Joey Gnoffo.) The image of death towering over everything and so easily over-stepping the boundaries created by the dollhouse is incredible. There are so many visually stimulating moments – created by the parallels in character height and other special effects – that the show has you enthralled from the moment the first curtain drops until the final curtain falls signaling the end.
And the star of the show, Maude Mitchell (OBIE Award Winner in 2003-2004), who has been with the show since it’s opening in 2003, delivers nothing less than a stellar performance. Mitchell bubbles and bounces across the stage with child-like innocence, twittering and gibbering as she giggles and squeaks through her lines concerning the children. She flounces around the dollhouse as a true featherbrain, the term adorned to her by her endearing husband, Torvald (Kristopher Medina.) Yet when confronted with true drama, in the scenes with Krogstad, (Nic Novicki), she is easily able to slip into a more dramatic tone, with a deepened voice and sullen expressions. Each emotion flows effortless through her gestures and across her face as Mitchell transforms from Nora the featherbrain – to the down-trodden hopeless woman – who realizes she has been married to a stranger for eight years. She crawls and scoots across the stage with dignity, taking pride in her stature when she is given the moment to stand at her full height. A tremendous performance worth seeing!
If you aren’t afraid of plays that leave you wondering – and this one most certainly will – and if you’d really enjoy a unique take on Ibsen’s work – then I strongly suggest you make your way to The Kennedy Center in Washington DC to see this limited engagement of Mabou Mines DollHouse.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission.
Mabou Mines DollHouse plays through October 22, 2011, at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.