Obsessed with making a 126-year-old play relevant to contemporary audiences, most directors and adapters of this play beat themselves up trying to turn this deeply conflicted affair into a realistic, serious, proto-feminist drama that could just as well be about a modern marriage. But even though he mainly uses the famous 1911 William Archer translation, Breuer, a legendary giant of the theatrical avant-garde, makes a dazzling case in this huge touring production that such approaches have missed the point of the play.
The "Mabou Mines DollHouse" sets the entire play in an oversize dollhouse populated by very tall women and very short men. Torvald, Dr. Rank and Krogstad are played by actors who range in height from 3 feet 4 inches to 4 feet 5 inches and climb all over the furniture. The wildly intense Maude Mitchell, who plays Nora partly as if she were Medea and partly as if she were Ulla from "The Producers," is about 6 feet.
The show also includes live music (mainly Grieg) played on an elongated piano resembling a stretch limo, various unscripted and provocatively staged scenes of explicit sexual activity between Torvald and Nora, nudity, and a dazzling finale set in a Victorian theater and featuring a slew of mechanical dolls. To say more would spoil the surprise.
You could make the case (and people have) that its use of small actors is exploitation. I see it as the opposite. Persons of diminutive size long have been a part of popular entertainment (you can see them right now in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular).
The show isn't perfect; the sequences with Dr. Rank feel unsatisfactory, and some of the humor veers suddenly toward the cheap. But Breuer, who watched the show Saturday night from a prominent position by the stage at the Museum of Contemporary Art as if he were a character in it, is more of an improvisational conductor than a typical director. He constantly tinkers with this show, which has been in process for at least three years. Depending on where in the lobby you looked on Saturday, published running times ranged from 2 1/2 hours to more than three.
Any time was well-spent. For anyone with a serious interest in alternative theater -- here expressed with production values on a par with a Broadway show -- this Court Theatre/MCA presentation is absolutely not to be missed.