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In his time, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was considered something of a maverick. In fact, Ibsen, who moved from romanticism to naturalism in theater, is generally acknowledged as the founder of modern drama. Today his work has become part of the cannon of dramatic literature.

Mabou Mines, a company noted for its deconstruction of the classics like the gender-reversed "King Lear," has taken Ibsen’s "A Doll’s House" and turned its weighty themes of confining marriages and the emancipation of women into the stuff of comedy and satire.

Lee Breuer, who adapted and directs Mabou Mines "Dollhouse" (at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO until Dec. 7), has created a production that scintillates and titillates. It is arresting both visually (Narelle Sissons has designed a dollhouse set complete with miniature furniture, piano and tea set) and aurally (Ning Yu accompanies each scene with Eve Beglarian’s Edvard Grieg-inspired music, much like in the days of silent film).

But what really sets this production apart is Breuer’s use of scale to mock traditional ideals of power. The male parts are all played by actors whose heights range from 3-foot-4 to 4-foot-5, while the women are all extremely tall. The excellent Honora Fergusson, who plays Nora’s maid, Kristine, is 6 feet tall.

Much of the time the women are on their knees or backsides so they can meet the men eye-to-eye. When they are annoyed or amorous they even pick up the little guys and deposit them at a different spot on the stage.

The men make up in bravado what they lack in stature. While the women caper about in crinolines and bustles, the men are stately and imposing in long coats, stiff collars and lavish capes. Meganne George’s costumes are nothing less than exquisite.

Mabou Mines’ "Dollhouse" abounds with extraordinary acting - Mark Povinelli as Nora’s overbearing husband, Torvald; Kristopher Medina as the vindictive Nils Krogstadt; and Ricardo Gil as the lovesick Dr. Rank. But it is Maude Mitchell as the petted and protected Nora who steals the show.

With her squeaky voice and mincing steps, Mitchell is every inch the "doll" in Ibsen’s drama. Yet she is also clever and determined - a bit like Lucy trying to trick Ricky with one of her harebrained schemes in an "I Love Lucy" episode. And she’s just as funny.

Beneath all the glitter, however, this production follows Ibsen’s original drama rather faithfully. Nora has forged documents to get money necessary to save Torvald’s life. Krogstadt is in possession of those documents and threatens to expose Nora unless she convinces her husband not to fire him for (of all things) forgery.

In the meantime, Nora’s old friend Kristine, who was at one time in love with and loved by Krogstadt and is now a widow, appears just as Nora is preparing for Christmas. She asks Nora to persuade Torvald, who was just promoted to bank manager, to give her a job at his bank. And Dr. Rank, who believes he is dying of some unspecified disease, declares his love (or passion) for Nora.

In many ways, Mabou Mines "Dollhouse" unfolds more like a dance than a straight drama. Indeed the choreography (created by Martha Clarke, Eamonn Farrell, Clove Galilee, Erik Liberman, Jane Catherine Shaw and Norman Snow) is essential in giving the play its humor, its satire, its excess and its passion.

It’s hard to imagine what Ibsen, who lived an austere and mostly joyless life, would have made of Breuer’s recasting of his highly moral and psychological ponderings on humanity. One can only hope that he would recognize in Breuer a kindred spirit, fully in tune with his rebellious, trail-blazing nature.

"Mabou Mines Dollhouse" plays through Dec. 14, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 4 pm, at St. Ann’s Warehouse (38 Water St. at Dock Street in DUMBO). Tickets are $22.50 Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 pm and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at $27.50. For tickets, call (718) 254-8779. For more information, visit

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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