This week’s biggest opening was surely Mabou Mines DollHouse, which kicked off the 2007 New World Stage International Performance (the reboot of the old World Stage Festival) over at the Premiere Dance Theatre. The New York-based company’s interpretation of Ibsen’s A Doll House is bizarre and at times confusing. It is also as vital and thrilling a piece of theatre as you are likely to see this year. Torontoist urges you with all its mightiness to see this show (which has a rather brief run) if at all possible. The tickets are expensive, but there are afforable rush seats available.
The central conceit of this production (which is what has gotten it so much press) is that all of the female characters in this story of a woman who has to break away from a constricting patriarchy are played by women around 6 feet tall, while all of the male actors are little people. In this version of the play, Nora (played absolutely brilliantly by Maude Mitchell) buys her children a doll house for Christmas that is large enough for them to actually live in. It’s the right size for the men in the play, but the woman are constantly on their knees to be able to fit in. Is this offensive exploitation? Not really. The heights of the actors is obviously very intentional and creates a specific effect, but the show relies on the strength of the actors’ performances which, especially in the case of Mark Povinelli who plays Nora’s husband Torvald, is very high (no pun intended).
The play is definitely stripped of its Naturalistic origins and performed in a way that can only be described as post-modern – but post-modernism has never been so gorgeous. From the opening, where red curtains slowly enclose the entire theatrical space, to the techies (who all wear pigtails) that are such a presence in the play they get their own bow at the curtain call, to the far-out dream sequences involving puppets, stilts and strobe lights, this is like no kind of Ibsen you’ve ever seen before. Mabou Mines is used to this kind of irreveranty re-working of the classics – the last time the company was in town, they performed an all-female version of King Lear.
Maude Mitchell deserves another mention in this review. Her performance is astounding. She wears a head-mic so that she can coyly whisper her lines at the beginning of the play in a voice that’s reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe doing a Norwegian accent, which only makes her ultimate transformation at the play’s ending all the more dramatic. She has become the definitive Nora for the 21st Century.
If you haven’t got the point already, this show is really, really good. It can be intimidating at times, and the first act is over-long, but the entire second half is one of the most rivetting, visually splendid theatrical experiences you’re likely to have for a while. So have it.