I have mixed feelings about the Halloween season, and the implied scary theme that surrounds it. I love thrillers, and enjoy creepy things that unsettle you, but I hate being startled and do not enjoy people jumping out at me from behind corners. Because of this I avoid haunted houses, and entered the James J Hill House, ready to experience "Bluebeard's Dollhouse," hesitant and unsure of what to expect. What I found is that the Combustible Company was able turn the historic James J Hill House into just my kind of haunted house. One filled with drama, intrigue, one that leaves you feeling a little unsettled, but with no monsters hiding around the corner.
As one might have guessed by the name "Bluebeard's Dollhouse," it combines the french folktale of "Bluebeard" with the Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play "A Doll's House". Before going it might be worth looking up the plots online (see hyperlinks) since the order in which you will see the scenes at "Bluebeard's Dollhouse" is random, and even once put together only give you snippets of plot points and themes. The information we are given is minimal, and the Combustible Company combines the two stories with care, but it is possible to tease out and identify the two stories being told. From "A Doll's House" we get the characters name's Torvald and Nora, Nora talking of saving her husband's life, dancing the tarantella, and Nora striking out on her own. From "Bluebeard" we get references to a man named Bluebeard, keys, and forbidden doors.
The actors in a "Bluebeard's Dollhouse" are also the audience's guides as they lead you from room to room. Although some of the characters and scenes are more obviously taking from one story versus the other, the idea of a woman trapped in a marriage is apparent. The disjointness of the scenes and the design make you feeling like you are watching the lives of people from the past. Ghosts who are currently trapped in this lavish house forced to replay past scenes. This eerie feeling was well pulled off by all involved. The design, lighting and costumes were all well used and all the actors involved were entirely convincing.
If you are going to see "Bluebeard's Dollhouse" bring a friend, and stand close as to make sure you are not separated.
"Bluebeard's Dollhouse" is playing the the James J Hill house Fridays and Saturdays until October 15.