The formidable avant-garde director Lee Breuer brings his revisionist Ibsen, which debuted in New York in 2003, to the Midwest, and the production is well worth the wait. Easily one of the year’s most imaginative and challenging theatrical offerings, Breuer’s “Dollhouse” begins with a few simple premises: male characters are all played by actors under 4′ 6″, while the women all hover around 6′; Nora and Torvald’s house is an actual, if outsized, dollhouse, constructed before our eyes in the first minutes of the play; and the actors adopt ludicrous Norwegian accents, complemented in Nora’s case by a helium-voiced cartoonish delivery. Any of these ideas could have devolved into disastrous gimmickry, inviting only ironic detachment. The underlying strength of the production is its use of these innovations to refresh our vision of Ibsen’s text, simultaneously disrupting our comfortable expectations of theatrical realism and keeping tightly in focus the emotional relationships and social tensions that drive Nora and Torvald’s story. While the cast is uniformly strong, the depth and power of Mark Povinelli’s Torvald and Maude Mitchell’s Nora allows Breuer’s risky staging to triumph. Povinelli is by turns explosive and vulnerable, ultimately crushed by the fearsome revelation of Mitchell’s changed heart. Along the way, the production is marked by countless tiny discoveries and charged moments, as when, after an exceptionally long pause, Torvald declares, “What a cozy and warm house this is!” There may be little comfort in Breuer’s “Dollhouse,” but its intellectual and emotional force might just renew your faith in theatre. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.