So it’s been a little while now since I saw the Mabou Mines production of “Dollhouse”. I am still trying to parse through what I felt. It breaks down, I think, into two sections.
Visceral: Loved it. I was consistently surprised in a way that I rarely have been in the theatre. The set, the use of the run crew, the acting choices, the bits of physical business – everything felt brave, creative, and effectively discomforting. I remember especially the first moment of the production – the choice to start with a bare set and then to lower in the beautiful red curtains with such ominous lethargy. Before my eyes I saw the illusion of the dollhouse created. Had I walked in to see the set already constructed, a massive amount of the nuance and message of the play would have been lost. This attention to every aspect of the production, from casting through to the wonderful interaction with the pianist was lavished with remarkable attention and discretion. The production disturbed me, moved me, shocked me. I laughed for a lot of it, not quite out of humor, but out of gleeful surprise.
Having Processed: Now, a while later, I have some slightly different thoughts. Thinking back on the production I realize that a lot of what I remember is the production. What is the story of “A Doll’s House”? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I had never read it before, and lots of details in the story and characters were lost to me. I was still able to basically follow the action, but my focus was rarely on the story itself. Having said that, doing a version of a well-known text rather than an original work did give the production the ability to focus on other things since the content is widely enough known.
Also, while the physical life of the play was very vibrant, many times I had no clue why characters were doing what they did. Often the physical interludes would serve to confound me more, because I couldn’t tell what was motivating them. But again, is this the point?
I find that everything potentially negative I could find to say about this production traps me into the question “but what if that’s the point?” Sure I couldn’t find the justification of the physicality in the performances. But what if that’s the point? I didn’t understand a lot of the story, just the visceral effect of the imagery. But what if that’s the point?
I now find, having gone through that odd paragraph, that the production in fact was great. Great in terms of my response, that is, BECAUSE it has forced me to ask “but what it that’s the point?” And in asking that I am thinking deeply about the point of theatre – a worthy discussion which this piece of art managed to effectively stimulate.
Maybe, for me, that’s the point. Whether or not I “liked” the show, I wish that more theatre would challenge me as thoroughly.