I found Mabou Mines’ production of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” visually stunning, hilarious and horrific. What I am most interested in exploring is how the production fits into the “avant garde” canon.
What makes this production avant garde? Well…it’s cutting edge in it’s representation of a “classic.” What makes it cutting edge then? The fact that it’s not a living room drama as imagined? I think it would be wise to quote Charles Mee, who, like many others, has recognized that “There is no such thing as an original play.” The same applies to this particular Doll’s House production.
All of these forms of movement, puppetry, design and stylization are not new. What is new and cutting edge is how the forms are used and arranged to create effective story-telling. When “A Doll’s House” originally premiered in Norway, Realism was shocking. Well…today realism is the status quo. Dare I say that we believe that it is a representation of our reality, and so then often we don’t question it as a specific choice.
The Mabou Mines’ production stays very true to the playwright’s original intent by asking questions like how can sexed inequalities be made painstakingly obvious? The size of the actors forces the audience to ask, “why?” where if Helmer were four inches shorter than Nora, the question would not be so obvious. Also, what is in the Russian, blue-dress doll motif including Nora, her daughter, the rag doll, and the paper dolls and how does this choice overall relate to the DollHouse set? I believed that the distorted, hyper-performativity in the piece mirrored the gendered performances we all play in life.
By screwing with our expectations, yet telling the story in full, the audience is able to interact with “A Doll’s House” in a way that transcends the comfortability of a cushy “classic.” The audience is then forced to ask, how does this story relate to my world today? And this, I believe, is the unsettling question that leads to new investigations and musings on life that immortalizes the art itself.