MABOU MINES DOLLHOUSE adapted by Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell from Henrik Ibsen, directed by Breuer (Mabou Mines/Harbourfront Centre). At the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). To February 4. $60-$75. 416-973-4000. See Continuing, page 80. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Mabou Mines has taken apart Ibsen 's A Doll's House and rebuilt it, emphasizing its melodramatic timbres, giving it a coat of comedy and ultimately making it an emotionally gripping theatrical experience.
In the adaptation by director Lee Breuer and actor Maude Mitchell , who plays the initially bubbly Nora, the women are tall and the men are all under 5 feet. Narelle Sissons 's set is a life-sized dollhouse, a Christmas present that Nora buys for her children; smaller versions of the set appear here and there throughout the show.
Given the nature of the casting, the show's visuals are frequently extraordinary: the first appearance of the three male characters, who fit the dimensions of the childlike set; the women coddling them as if they were actually children; the women on their knees or crawling on the floor to meet the men face to face and often rolling around sexually with the randy male figures.
All these visuals have a dramatic vitality for a production bent on demonstrating the callousness of a patriarchal culture in which men can alternate between commanding husband and demanding, tantrum-prone child. But that's only half the equation, for we also watch Nora squeeze herself into the straitjacket of the empty-headed spouse, trying to appear - as her abusive, insensitive husband, Torvald ( Mark Povinelli ), dubs her - a carefree chipmunk or skylark.
Mitchell gives one of the bravest performances I've seen in years, initially reminiscent of a squeaky-voiced Shirley Temple or Lily Tomlin's testy Edith Ann. She and the rest of the company play the first act as shticky comic burlesque, complete with faux Scandinavian accents and postmodern winks at the audience. There are lots of large-scale, hand-to-forehead melodramatic gestures to accompanying piano music.
That first act is sometimes slow, frustrating and overly busy, but the second is stunning - a literally operatic take on the story and the central relationship, revealing a wrenching tragedy and loss for both oppressor and oppressed. The ending, with Nora clear-eyed and reborn, has never been so moving or so haunting.