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Sunday, June 05, 2005


S. Sellers

Dollhouse: I never realised I was a "conservative Charlestonian"

On Memorial Day evening, my sister, 18 year-old niece, and I treated my mother to a Girls Night at Spoleto to celebrate her 70th birthday. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Blossom Cafe and then viewed Dollhouse. My sister is an English teacher who makes the original play required reading for her senior students. She was very excited about seeing Dollhouse come to life. Well, come to life it did! By the end of the first act, the four of us just looked at each other blankly. Perhaps I should mention that my sister and I have traveled quite a lot and have seen various performances across the country, including Broadway. We are not prudish (ok, she is a LITTLE more prudish than I) and share a love of the stage and live performances. The show, in my opinion, was a complete disaster. I thought perhaps something was wrong with us - maybe we weren't "cultured" enough to understand. Then, during the first intermission, I noticed many people leaving. We were encouraged by an usher to move up to better seats since so many had left. During the intermission, I listened to conversations of strangers:
"When you have a major event like Spoleto, they know that you're willing to buy tickets to anything that's available. So they'll show anything just to get a ticket sold" - one disgusted older gentleman said on the front porch.
"Too bad they aren't serving refreshments. I can't decide if I need some caffiene to stay awake or a lot of wine to put me out of my pain of watching this." - young woman said laughingly on the stairs
"I'm afraid that the Conservative Charlestonians will not understand Dollhouse. It is definitely for a more refined audience." - a gentlemen said too loudly at the bottom of the staircase

After the second intermission, we moved to even better seats as the crowds continued the great exodus. I couldn't decide which grated my nerves more: Nora's "twittering" in the first acts or her unintelligible opera singing at the end. Why did some of the actors do pirouettes while reciting their lines? Why did the husband have to "hump" a pillow, casting an explicit shadow on the wall, while talking to Nora in Act III? Why did we chose this play for a 70th birthday celebration?

When the play was thankfully over, we walked silently to the car. My mother never made any comment. My refined English teacher sister finally said, "That was the worst %$#@ play I've ever seen in my life." My 18-year-old niece said, "Well, at least I can now say I've seen a half naked little man." The laughter started, and continued until we got home an hour later. At least we can thank Spoleto for a memorable evening - - one we will be talking about until we celebrate mom's 100's birthday.

I read today that the play has been edited. Thanks for noticing that the audience wasn't getting it. I just have a little trouble determining how you can save a sinking ship. Or, in the words of the less "refined" - "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken [excrement]."

steve m

Blair Tindall's review was right on the money. S Sellers' observations conveved my thoughts exactly. It was an awful production! $40 a ticket?! And, who is this idiot critic from The City Paper that gave "Dollhouse" an A+?

Kat K

Whether you loved it or hated it, the Dollhouse succeeded in fulfilling what, in my opinion, is quite possibly the most crucial role of theatre in our society: it caused a strong reaction. At intermission, when the lights came up, I excitedly turned to the others seated with me in a box at the Dockstreet, excited to get their reactions. A few of the more timid of our party just blushed and mumbled something quietly. A few of the others were beaming, and yet still more were horrified. As for me, I thought it was fantastic. Personally, I found poignant symbolism and entertainment in all of the aspects of the show that S. Sellers described as grating to his nerves. The show was original, not something to be taken lightly when The Dollhouse is a century old! While, yes, there were some points that were a touch more risqué than a normal Charlestonian stage production, a member of my party had an interesting hypothesis as to why this was necessary: perhaps the creative forces behind Mabou Mines Dollhouse wanted to emulate the shock factor that the original play would have had in the late 19th century. After all, Nora's actions, which would have caused strong reactions to the original audience, were hardly enough to move our modern viewers if left alone. However, whatever their opinions of the production, nobody in the Dock Street Theatre got through the play totally unmoved. As for me, I think that the Dollhouse was wonderful, and definitely worth seeing! And a quick note on Ms. Tindall's review: I was treated to a question-and-answer session with her before I saw the Dollhouse as part of the CAPPIES program. All of us attending, some of whom were fellow CAPPIES and some of whom were from the INK section of the Post and Courier, are student critics in the Charleston area. Ms. Tindall spoke for awhile on the importance of never being outrightly cruel in a review and only trashing a show that was outstandingly horrible. I then found it somewhat surreal to attend the Dollhouse, love it, and then return home only to find that Ms. Tindall had completely panned it in her review! Like many others in this debate, Ms. Tindall is very educated and accomplished, but, in the matter of the Dollhouse, I'm afraid I must disagree with her. I thought that the entire production was excellent, moving, very symbolic and, though not for everyone, definitely worth seeing!

Patrick Sharbaugh

The Post and Courier seems to have had an awfully good time at the City Paper's expense this morning, when they chose to reprint — of all the many comments on this blog — one from a commenter above named Steve M. who called City Paper reviewer Jennifer Corley an "idiot" because she gave DollHouse high marks and an A+ in her review last week. For Steve M.'s and the Post and Courier's benefit, I'm posting a response here (but I don't have any illusions about this post getting reprinted as prominently as Steve's "idiot" remark).

Hi Steve, you wondered on Dan Conover's Spoletoblog who the idiot City Paper critic is that gave Mabou Mines Dollhouse an A+. Her name is Jennifer Corley, and she's our regular theatre critic. She earned her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Playwriting; she attended Oxford University in England, where she studied Shakespeare and Irish Playwrights. She then spent two years at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London, England, where she received a degree in Collaborative Theatre, with specialties in playwriting, dramaturgy, directing, performance, set/costume/light/sound design, and puppetry. She is an award-winning, published playwright; she worked as a dramaturg in New York City, and she has produced plays in England and in the U.S. She also works in film and video. She teaches scriptwriting and works as a script consultant; one of her students recently won “Best Short Screenplay” at the Slamdance Festival. She has written, acted, designed, and directed, and still does as regularly as time allows.

For what it's worth, Dan Conover, whose blog you posted your comment upon, called DollHouse "brilliant," and the Post and Courier's Dottie Ashley raved about it. In fact, the only critic in Charleston who's had anything poor to say about the production is Ms. Tindall. Just thought you'd like to know.

Patrick Sharbaugh
Arts and Entertainment Editor, The City Paper

Daniel Conover

OK, just to keep everything clear:

1. I'm the guy who puts together the "Buzz from the Blog" column, and I'm the one who put Steve M.'s comment in there... so there's little doubt he's calling me an idiot right along with Jennifer. I don't know Jennifer, but I can say that whether or not I'm an idiot is an issue that's very much on the table;

2. As much as this pains me to say it, Patrick's statement that I chose Steve M's comment "of all the many comments on this blog" is misleading. Of the 10 most recent comments posted here, one is a duplicate, one is from a P&C editor, one is from my wife, and one is yours. Of the remaining six, five have been excerpted or used in the "Buzz from the Blog," and the sixth one is new and will be used on Wednesday. I wish there were more comments to choose from day-to-day, but right now the ratio of daily hits to comments is running about 400-to-1. I'm doing whatever I can do to encourage and invite comments, but the act of commenting is beyond my control.

3. Now, if I would have had other comments, would I have still used Steve M.'s comment? Most likely. It wouldn't be much of a blog if I only highlighted the comments that agreed with me. Plus, it was a concise, crisp statement that expressed an opinion. I didn't worry about it offending Jennifer Corley: I read her review, and I have no doubt she's pscyhologically capable of withstanding Steve M.'s critique.

Daniel Vasquez

I will begin with a tiny bit about myself. My name is Daniel Vasquez and I am 28 years old. For the past 3 years, I have driven from Atlanta to attend the festival. Why? I am one of the "Opera Spoletians". I am also the founder of the QueerOperaPunks (self explanatory). During my college years I toured with various gore punk bands as a performance artist. On the flip side, I have seen several of my essays on opera used by colleges, opera companies and various magazines. I have a tiny bit of knowledge regarding stage matters, and I am certainly not shocked by a set of boobies and midget hooka.

Following the performance, I made it a point to search the 145+ page Spoleto Festival 2005 guide (there seems to be one in every bathroom) for an explanation of what I saw. Indeed, the three page incantation that I found in page 17 spoke of a search for Americanism, melting pot of cultures, ta ka ta ka ta ka. Being on the opera side of things, I am quite used to reading these intricate explanations which somehow are supposed to excuse the fact that tonight's soprano was dressed like an Enchorito. In fact, stroll down to the Memminger Auditorium to see what I mean (major eye roll here). I have learned that, when the director's explanation of "his/her concept" is longer than two sentences, something is bound to be terribly wrong. The result? What I saw on Sunday 6/5 was a comedy with an odd ending.

For starters, I was struck by your own observation that a "straight" rendition of this play would not be taken seriously. As opposed to, errr...introducing midgets onstage? Lord knows that the only moment the audience stopped laughing was during the last 10 minutes of the performance, and interestingly enough, those last 10 minutes were not even part of Ibsen's play. Up until that moment, the director could not decide whether he had nailed his point into us about the midget business, managing to bring it up every 5 minutes. Really, after 10 minutes of being exposed to the male actors, I "got" the message, much like one gets the message of "its a small world after all" in the first three hearings. Alas, much like the celebrated song, our director felt it necessary to carry out midget jokes for a terribly large part of the evening. They were carried, rocked, ridiculed. It went beyond a concept. Rather, it destroyed surefire moments which help the audience assess the relationship of the characters onstage. Example: When Nora implies that Torvald's desire to dismiss Krogstad is rash and "small", Torvald asks her "small? do you think I'm small?". This is a small turning point in that Nora is actually talking back to her husband, and it was missed in the audience's laughter. There were several instances of this. Another moment, which still has me scratching my head, was the outburst by the kabuki-clad pianist at Torvald's onstage remark that knitting is "chinese". Pointless slapstick? What else could it be?
The most troublesome part of the evening was the ending sequence, or what I like to call "the appendix". It's 2005, and I have seen Janet Jackson and Sinnead O'Connor already. That was supposed to be shocking? Rather bring up Nicole Brown Simpson onstage and stab OJ instead! It is not the first that I have seen this sort of self serving, narcissistic mess from a director in opera, but rarely have I seen it miss the point THIS MUCH. It would be like a chef tossing some rocks into the risotto in order to emphasize the texture. Errr...that's not risotto anymore, and what's going on at the Dock Street is CERTAINLY not Ibsen.

I know a lot of people are saying that, ultimately, this production "is making people think about the play, its generating debate...thats the ultimate goal of art..." People like to say all sorts of things in order to go to bed at night, but I will tell you this: what I saw is really not THAT bad. I mean..there is MUCH worse out there. Munich Opera will eat Mabou Mines and it's little dog. They recently staged a production of Verdi's Rigoletto ala "Planet of the Apes".

Dont believe me? Follow this bad boy and scroll down for the video...dont forget to pick your Louis Vuitton purse on the way out:


Will Chase

I feel like taking this point-by-point to help me organize the OVERWHELMING number of reasons why I disagree.

>> "Ibsen's play is so dated that I can't imagine that anyone with a pulse could take a "straight" staging of A Doll's House with any seriousness. But Lee Breuer's imaginative adaptation finds the humor in the melodrama, and then just when you're along for the hayride, he strips Torvald and Nora down to flayed pain right before your eyes. Breuer has done something truly remarkable: He has discovered and redeemed the universal emotional core of Ibsen's play."

Rebut: First of all, Ibsen's play is not dated at all; yes, it was written with reference to a certain social melieu, but the implications of those references can STILL be felt resoundingly within our own society. Women are STILL expected to be pretty little 'songbirds' at home in many instances. As for discovering the humor and "melodrama," there should be neither melodrama nor humor in a decent production of this play. The character's emotions -- if well represented -- are too raw on their own to fall into either of these categories. The "universal emotional core" exists in the original and can be elicited with fairly little work.

>> "Remember all that fuss about "The Scene?" Those reviews that say it's boring and overdone? Well, either Breuer has changed the section and perfected it or these fussy people need some serious help. The simulated sex scene was hilarious and the audience loved it. There was an octagenarian in the row in front of me, and she was practically in tears. And if you think it's somehow inappropriate, let me just remind you of a significant point: There was not a single child in the audience to offend. Just adults."

Rebut: The sex scene was an abomination. Kristine's giving Krogsted a BLOWJOB reduced her to nothing more than a prostitute who was willing to put out to save a friend's ass. In the ACTUAL play, Kristine can be viewed akin to Nora in that she originally married (and was trapped with) a person she didn't love because of her family's needs and desires. However, she realizes -- after her husband's death, and once she is out on her own -- that she needs to love on her own terms, and goes after her original love: Krogsted. It also shows how EVERYONE suffers if a woman is repressed, as Krogsted's own bitterness (which starts the vicious cycle in the play) is caused by Kristine's repressed love too. Did Mabou Mines choose to pursue this avenue of analysis? No, instead they cheapened Kristine's character to a triviality along only for the peepshow she gives.

>> "This play would have been pretentious crap if the only trick in Breuer's book had been to put small actors in the male roles. Trust me, that's not his only trick. Smart, creative surprises abound. And that's something special in theater, music, film, you name it."

Rebut: "Smart, creative surprises" require that they be actually smart and creative. Having a rousing choral march accompanied by dancing marionettes and a strip show by Nora does NOT qualify as "smart" or "creative," especially when accompanied by a poorly lip-synched operatic verse to the effect of "Women of the world unite." Way to be violently transparent in what you're trying to say. And if I hear another person say how much syyyymmmmbolism there was in the play, I will scream. It's not symbolism when you hit your audience over the head with every point you are force-feeding to them. Try to remember something other than that word from high school literature.

>> "I was shocked by the ending, shocked by the fact that I actually felt the rawness of it. The distance between 1879 and 2005 is so vast that one simply cannot consider the characters' melodramatic conflicts as anything other than absurd, and Breuer invites us to laugh at these silly social conventions. But anyone who has ever experienced the end of a significant relationship will recognize the pain and devastation on stage, and that is miraculous."

Rebut: See the above rebuttal. The trite march does not constitute a shocking, raw ending. Please. Are we 10? And the characters' "melodramatic conflicts" are anything but if we look at the reality of Nora's world. Empathy is not required to fade over a 126 year period unless you are unwilling to even try.

In short, this play way a travesty that did innumerable disservices to the original work, which is a far-reaching commentary on women's roles that has implications even in todays "Rock 'n Roll World." Mabou Mines manages to make sure that the audience has to exert little-to-no effort in their viewing of the play, and force feeds their impressions down the audience's throat.

I'd have to be strongly coerced to see another Mabou Mines production.

-- W

Phil Davis

Last week some friends and I took a house at Folly Beach and saw a few Spoleto events. I had expected a nice break from the pace of New York, and indeed the beach house was a pleasant respite in spite of the rain and bulldozing "renourishment" project at Folly.

What I wasn't prepared for was the shot of artistic adrenaline I got from DollHouse. While I might quibble with some specifics of the staging, I thought the overall concept was bold and successful, and the final operatic scene evoked raw primal emotion. Torvald's exit through the theatre, crying for Nora, was harrowing and beautiful. The casting of small actors did not seem a mere gimmick to me, since they were also superb actors, regardless of height.

One of the goals of avant garde theatre is to provoke, to shake the dust and cobwebs off works that have become rote, dead rituals over time. This production did just that. As invigorating as the production itself is the response, both pro and con, of the audience and critics. How refreshing to see such passionate engagement with the work. The goal of provocation was certainly achieved.

I don't know of anything so exciting that has happened in New York this year.

Charline Duffin

I wanted to weigh in on the side of people who just love the play. I walked out of the theater on a "high" with a smile on my face. I couldn't wait to tell my husband all about what I had just seen. We hadn't thought when I bought tickets that he would enjoy it, but I think even he would have. I went to the last performance, so I don't know what had gone on before, but they certainly "had it together" by then. I had been out of town so was not aware of the controversy. I don't have anything to add to the positive comments you have received. I do think that if one leaves out the music and wonderful singing voices in Don Giovani and compares just the play ( acting, staging, casting, etc.)with Dollhouse; Dollhouse wins hands down.

Personal info - I majored in English and Drama and taught English, Speech and Drama and directed plays in High School.

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