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Theater: Mabou Mines Dollhouse

This article shared 3299 times since Wed Dec 14, 2005
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Adapted by: Henrik Ibsen

( reimagined by Lee Breuer )

At: Court Theatre at Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago

Phone: ( 773 ) 753-4472; $26-$50

Runs through: Dec. 18


It's hard to criticize a show that takes its themes and plotlines from one of theater's greatest plays and is brilliantly innovative in its execution. On one hand, the whole of Ibsen's great pro-feminist story of Nora and her eventual epiphany of personal strength against the oppressive males surrounding her remains intact. It's a compelling story and one that's survived the test of time ( it's probably been performed thousands of times all over the world since its 1879 premiere, most recently in a Chicago-set modern version by Rebecca Gilman at the Goodman ) . On the other, it's a story that's so great and so resonant that one wonders why it would need a radical 'deconstruction.' But let's get to motive later.

Here is a show that confounds because it has found an unquestionably brilliant interpreter in director Lee Breuer ( who collaborated with the production's Nora, Maude Mitchell ) , who has staged a Doll's House as it's likely never been seen before. There is such genius here: staging the whole thing in a doll house ( set by Narelle Sissons ) ; casting small men ( none over 4 and a half feet ) and tall women ( most near six feet ) to illustrate the imbalance of power in the household and indeed, within the world of men and women in general; creating a cartoonish world which is beguiling, confusing, and sometimes hilarious. The silent music-inflected score ( original music and Edvard Grieg adaptations by Eve Beglarian, performed on piano by Ning Yu ) and the goofy, yet inspired choreography ( Eamonn Farrell ) further contribute to the kind of sustained imaginative leaps that are simply awe-inspiring.

So why after the 90-minute or so first act wasn't I chomping at the bit to get back inside the theater, anticipating that flash of the lights that indicated intermission was coming to a close? Why in fact, did I hem and haw and finally do something I hate to admit and that I never do? Why did I walk out?

Because I couldn't stand the thought of more of the same. I just couldn't bring myself to go back into the theater.

It took me a while to figure out why as I made my guilty drive home. After all, as I said above, the whole of Ibsen's brilliant work stays pretty much intact in this 'deconstruction' and the artistry on display both onstage and off is beyond reproach. What's not to like?

Plenty. The problem with Breuer's vision is that it is too much about him. It's screaming out, like a spoiled child, 'Look at me! Look how smart I am! Behold! How clever!' His cartoonish universe ( replete with its unintelligible fake Norwegian accents and the high-pitched breathy delivery of its leading lady ) gets old very quickly ( this might have made for a great 20-minute sketch, stretched to three hours, it becomes intolerable … a case for a little of something going a long way ) . Worse, Breuer's artistic vision subtracted one crucial element from his doll's house: sympathy. By creating a world so far removed from our own, we simply can't care about Nora and her plight … and that's perhaps the most horrifying thing about this smart, yet misguided creation.

This article shared 3299 times since Wed Dec 14, 2005
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