For some, even D.C. is too close for Mabou Mines

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Regular Spoleto watchers will recall that two years ago, the Big Festival was chiefly remarkable for two things: 1) the rain that soaked all but one of the event’s first 12 days, and 2) Mabou Mines Dollhouse, director Lee Breuer’s controversial take on Henrik Ibsen that was the festival’s centerpiece theatre event. All the male actors in the avant-garde staging were less than five feet tall, and all the women clocked in at six and above. Depending on the night you saw it, you either got a version including

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fellatio scene or without, plus or minus 45 minutes and a second intermission, and with a lead actress who was naked and bald or not. Critical and audience reactions were, at risk of understatement, polarized.

But Breuer and company were old Spoleto hands even before that year’s fireworks. In 1996, they offered audiences the world premiere of a show called Peter and Wendy, a puppet-theatre piece based on E.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It starred Karen Kandel, who appeared in last year’s production of Geisha, and Basil Twist, the renowned puppeteer (there’s two words you don’t often see next to each other) who gave us La bella dormente nel bosco in 2005, which played against Dollhouse at the Dock Street (and in which the only midgets were marionettes).

Peter and Wendy was a smash hit at the 1996 festival. Anyone who remembers it – or Mabou Mines Dollhouse – may be interested to learn that it’s getting a new production right now at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where it runs through June 24. Reviewing the play in today’s Washington Post, critic Peter Marks writes:

The production by Mabou Mines, a fixture of New York experimental theater, was hatched more than a decade ago at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., and is just now reaching Washington. As directed by Mabou’s co-founder, Lee Breuer, this adaptation is a lyrical blend of puppets and actors, ballads with a Celtic lilt and deceptively simple stagecraft with an air of bewitchment.

Will anything get tongues wagging and audiences pitching fits in this year’s festival like Dollhouse did? One can only hope.

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