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Pictured the Goodman Theatre's world premiere production of Rebecca Gilman's "Dollhouse" are Maggie Siff (Nora) and Anthony Starke (Terry). "Dollhouse" appears in the Goodman's Albert Theatre June 18 through July 24, 2005, and is directed by Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls. Tickets may be purchased at the Goodman Theatre Box Office, 170 N. Dearborn Street, by calling (312) 443-3800, or online at www.goodmantheatre.org.

Photo: Michael Brosilow

Betty Mohr, Daily Southtown - "there are some fine performances, such as that of Anthony Starke."

Jeff Rossen, Gay Chicago Magazine - "much more successful [is] Anthony Starke's clearly focused take on Terry, who's trying to rein in his wife's spending habits and solidfy their future."

Reviews of DOLLHOUSE

The following reviewers have graciously granted us permission to post their reviews. They have asked us to post the full review, including links. The 'right click' feature for this page has been disabled in order to honor their requests.


Link courtesy of Al Bresloff, SalsaChicago

Windy City Times

Playwright: Rebecca Gilman, after Ibsen
At: The Goodman Theatre
Phone: (312)443-3800; $20-$60
Runs through: July 24

By Jonathan Abarbanel

Treading where numerous adapters have failed, Rebecca Gilman succeeds in updating Henrik Ibsen´s A Doll´s House with a believable modern gloss of idiom and style while adapting his still-potent ideas to contemporary life. One may raise secondary literary quibbles or protest Gilman´s surprise ending—which may undercut Ibsen´s intent—but these factors cannot negate Gilman´s considerable achievement, especially as staged by Robert Falls at the very peak of his powers as a director, and acted by an exemplary ensemble. Dollhouse crackles with tension, intelligence and entertainment from the moment the stage lights rise.

Gilman remains remarkably true to Ibsen´s 1879 original. Early 30s Terry ( Ibsen´s Torvald ) Helmer is a banker on the brink of major career advancement. He lives beyond his immediate means with beautiful wife Nora and three small kids. Nora, who´s never had to work, is a spendthrift whom Terry also regards as empty headed ( the two aren´t the same thing ) . Six years earlier when Terry faced a health crisis, Nora secretly bankrolled his rehab and the purchase of their luxury condo through a shady financial deal that can compromise Terry professionally.

Now Nora´s financial patron is applying the screws as Nora scrambles to keep her secret. When Terry finds out, his egotistically self-serving reaction opens Nora´s eyes to his true character, allowing Nora to define herself—vs. being defined by others—for the first time. In Ibsen´s original, she walks out and slams the door—literally—on husband, children and middleclass marriage, a denouement considered shocking and morally reprehensible by most Ibsen contemporaries. Gilman´s ending ( I won´t reveal it ) may equally shock modern Ibsenites, which may be precisely why she does it: to challenge familiar assumptions. Like Ibsen, Gilman uses drama to explore shifting male/female power relationships, and this vehicle is a continuum for both.

Gilman fills Dollhouse with smart equivalents. Ibsen´s Nora distracts Torvald by dancing a wild tarantella; Gilman´s Nora lap dances Terry to I´m a Maniac. Torvald has been promoted to bank manager; Terry has been promoted to Bank One manager of mid-level lending. Shifting locale from Norway to Chicago, Gilman extracts laughter—but also makes socio-economic points—from the Red and Brown lines, Albany and Lincoln parks, Francis Parker School, Bloomies and Target.

Director Falls understands every subtle moment-to-moment shift in Dollhouse from comedy to tension and back again, the use of irony ( strong in Ibsen and equally understood by Gilman ) , the humor that´s a cover for fear or longing. His crisp staging ( on Robert Brill´s witty shadowbox set echoing the play´s title ) and sure thinking hone the actors to near perfection: Maggie Siff´s energetic and astonishingly quicksilver Nora, Anthony Starke´s attractively smarmy Terry and Lance Stuart Baker´s masterfully sad clowning as their physician friend. Elizabeth Rich and Firdous Bamji are no less astute in less showy supporting roles.

Gillman´s Dollhouse makes me see the characters and ideas of Ibsen´s A Doll´s House in new ways. Her reinvention is clever, thoughtful, pertinent and amusing. The light shines through this open Dollhouse door.

Review and Link courtesy of Jonathan Abarbanel and the Windy City Times

Roberta on the Arts

At The Goodman Theatre
170 N. Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Robert Falls: Artistic Director
Roche Schulfer: Executive Director
By Rebecca Gilman
Adapted from the play by: Henrik Ibsen

Starring: Maggie Siff, Anthony Starke, Lance Stuart Baker, Elizabeth Rich, Firdous Bamji, Charin Alvarez, Maritza Cervantes, Melody Hollis, Allison Sparrow, Ryan Cowhey, Matthew Gerdisch, Jordyn Knysz, Emily Leahy

Director: Robert Falls
Set Design: Robert Brill
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls
Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld
Original Music and Sound Design: Richard Woodbury
Choreography: Randy Duncan
Video Projections Compilation: Rene Arteaga
New York Casting: Bernard Telsey Casting
Chicago Casting: Adam Belcuore
Dramaturg: Tom Creamer
Production State Manager: Alden Vasquez
Stage Manager: Sascha Connor
Literal Translation: Marte Hvam Hult
Press Associate: Jennifer Dobby
Exclusive Corporate Sponsor: Northern Trust
Production Sponsor: Edith-Marie Appleton Foundation
Scenic Design Sponsor: ABT Electronics

Susan Weinrebe
June 16, 2005

Henrik Ibsen´s scandalous 1879, A Doll´s House, (A Doll´s House, the play), is updated and revamped in Rebecca Gilman´s version, Dollhouse. The change from adjective to noun in the title, is a clue that more than a grammatical skew has taken place.

What was socially shocking, when Somerset Maugham (Maugham Bio) had a father in Of Human Bondage declare he´d rather see his daughters, “…lying dead at my feet than see them listening to the garbage of that shameless fellow…,’ has now become topically humorous! It is no longer a looking glass revealing the truth about women´s subservience in society. It is now a mirror that seems to reflect the life and times of the twenty to thirty something´s that made up the audience.

Accoutrements, for an upscale lifestyle, play on a large screen as we wait for the play to begin. It´s a chance to take in the siren call of ads for everything from sexy but angelic lingerie, bird logoed soap and chocolate, to urban war vehicles. This Lincoln Park condo set is where Nora and Terry will act out the conflicts of their relationship.

Superficially, they have all the trappings of success. From their perfectly located and furnished apartment, to their three young children with androgynous names, the couple has what appears to be a dream life. Terry is a banker, newly promoted. Nora used to work for a decorator, but now she´s a stay-at-home mother. That is, when she´s not off spending money and leaving her carefully spaced children with the nanny.

Acquisitiveness and the trouble it spawns is at the heart of Dollhouse. Two of the characters intertwined with Nora and her secrets, stress this theme. Raj has long been suspected of stealing funds from the Young Republicans back in college. Now he is desperately trying to evade indictment for nefarious business practices, and to collect on Nora´s loan or take her down with him. Kristine, though innocent of wrongdoing, is part of the fallout from the Arthur Andersen debacle. (Arthur Andersen fallout)

This is where Rebecca Gilman´s play parts company from the original. Ibsen´s Nora is infantilized and diminished by her husband, in the norm of the time, we are to believe. A “little squirrel,’ a “sky-lark,’ is not even a wife, much less an equal. It is only when Torvald reviles her and is ready to cast her off that Nora recognizes she is a pet. With this epiphany, she abandons him and her children to go off on her own and discover who she is meant to be.

The Nora of Dollhouse has purchased a health cure for her husband, but in the vernacular of the 21st century, it is for a drug addiction rather than for a disease. With the money borrowed for his rehabilitation, she has included enough extra cash to acquire a condo, furnishings, clothes, and tuition for her children at a private school, household help, and all the extras that are her portal to perfection.

A quarter´s worth of analysis tells us Nora is a person trying to fill a void within herself. Motherless years and a ne´er do well father can do that. “I should have planned more for my life,’ is Nora´s wistful musing. Women´s Lib! Where art thou? This young woman is not being prevented by anyone, much less society, from going out and doing whatever she chooses to do. I really wanted her to get a grip. Make a plan. See it through.

Maggie Siff´s Nora is a dippsy-doodle. She tippy-toes so she won´t mar the finish on her beautiful wood floor, and she tippy-toes around Terry´s questions about her spending. She gulps an extravagant truffle, not even tasting it in her effort to stuff it down, before her husband discovers the contraband that could make her fat. Yet, she had the loyalty to stick by Terry, when he was on drugs, and used initiative to get him help. Nora doesn´t need to join the Marines to be all that she can be. She just needs to decide if she´s going to stop playing games.

Ms. Siff´s comedic timing and talent for physical humor add appeal to her character, which is mostly feckless and clueless. It´s funny when she says she´s economizing by shopping at Trader Joe´s instead of Whole Food! The audience seemed to relish the portrayal of someone meant to be familiar to them as well as the many references to Chicago locations

Nora is amusing, but increasingly poignant as she tries to keep Terry from the inevitable: discovering the loan and that he will be implicated in her malfeasance. By the time Ms. Siff dances a frenzied parody of Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, (Flashdance Website) it is as though she is dancing for her life.

In fact, in the original play, Nora performs a tarantella, the frantic dance one, who has been bitten by a spider, must do, until the dancer drops and dies! Unfortunately, the audience missed the fear that propelled Nora´s dance, which was meant to forestall Terry from opening an all-revealing email.
Perhaps the audience missed the nuance, because there had been so much humor leading up to the solo that went on just a little too long.

In a bravura tantrum of a showdown, Anthony Starke, as her husband, Terry, realizes that his reputation and career have been jeopardized by details of Nora´s loan. It´s always an education to see how someone loses his temper; just as it´s informative to observe the kind of person someone is when he´s had too much to drink.

I found Terry´s display of meanness plausible, when he used the handiest of sexual epithets against Nora. But this was because I never had the sense that the he really cared about her. They were coupled, but not bonded. I knew far less about Terry´s part of the relationship than I did Nora´s. His fury, though, was recognizable as that of a thwarted boy rather than a man, and in that, Anthony Starke characterized Terry best.

A revolution was contained in the conclusion of Ibsen´s play, but not so in Dollhouse. It´s difficult to imagine, in fact, what would currently be a shocking enough conclusion to balance the comedy of the play. Something utterly unexpected and ugly perhaps?

Ibsen concocted a softer alternative “German’ ending for a tour of his play. Likewise, Ms. Gilman departs from Ibsen´s original conclusion. Given our hopes for Nora, this end is an unsettling note, but one that follows the theme of Dollhouse: anything is possible and fixable – for a price.

Courtesy of RobertaOnTheArts.com and Author, Susan Weinrebe

Our very own Cat has also reviewed this production. Cat's Review

Contact the webmistress at webcat @ anthonystarke.com