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Review of Bluebeard’s Dollhouse at the James J. Hill House

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This is not your typical Historic Hill House tour!

James J. Hill House at night, where the Combustible Company is presenting Bluebeard's Dollhouse

James J. Hill House at night, where the Combustible Company is presenting Bluebeard’s Dollhouse.

Quote of the day: Continuing to do the same action and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. A line used in the play Bluebeard’s Dollhouse by Kim Longhi with the ensemble of Combustible Company. It’s sort of, Haunted House meets playwrights Ibsen and Perrault in a macabre mash-up of two plays that have evil, overbearing male leads and oppressed women. The play has many Noras and Thorvald/Bluebeards. They are all ghostly, blue-ish, and carry keys somewhere on their bodies. “Don’t go into the forbidden room.” You hear many times. A key is dangled in front of a Nora. She holds the power to see the truth, but isn’t sure she wants to. “He loves me, I think,” we hear again and again, but he sure has a funny way of showing it. The characters are all tangled up and confused. The men try to control. The women try to get a foothold. 

I believe this is Isaac Bont, singing a haunting chant as you walk up to the Hill House for the performance.

I believe this is Isaac Bont, singing a haunting chant as you walk up to the Hill House for the performance.

I am not a fan of the horror genre. I have a Stephen King book, The Shining, sitting on my nightstand that I’m scared to read. I don’t like slasher films. I don’t go to haunted houses in October, and the one time I went to the Haunted Trail at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd, I got annoyed by all the chainsaws coming after me. That said, I like a good thriller, and I was intrigued enough by this production to make the trip to St. Paul to see it. I wanted to learn from the company how they staged a performance in an historical building and moved the audience from room to room to see it. 

They use the entrance and first room to greet the guests, the same room you go to when getting a regular tour of the place. I was on the tour about a year ago, and once when I was in the 6th grade for our school trip to the State Capital. The best part, for me, was going to the music room where Isaac Bont (Bluebeard) played the pipe organ, so cool to hear it! We saw a few scenes on the first floor, including the staircase, then followed the actors to the second floor, and one scene on the third floor. The actors gesture to you and point when you’re supposed to move, and they have folding chairs in the rooms so you can sit down. Although, I didn’t mind standing. I kind of liked being able to move while taking in the show. They do have elevators for people who need them.

Murder, mayhem and marriage are on tap in “Bluebeard’s Dollhouse,” opening Sept. 30 at James J. Hill House in St. Paul. (Combustible Company)

Murder, mayhem and marriage are on tap in “Bluebeard’s Dollhouse,” opening Sept. 30 at James J. Hill House in St. Paul. (Combustible Company)

Truthfully, this show is a little weird for me. And, yet, I was curious and I’m glad I went. I tried to take in as many details as possible. It is a little unnerving to be so close to the actors. Some of those rooms are small, and the actors are so close you can smell each other’s breath! I suppose that adds to the bizarre feelings and intensity. I was trying to think who would like going to this show. Teenagers might go for the haunted house effect. Young Adults will look for the symbolism (caught some, but my companion Beth did a much better job), theater fans will go for the uniqueness of the experience. It is a fantastical meshing of classical theatrical literature, a brave theater troupe, and an historical setting. I can’t help but wonder what it was really like living with Mr. James J. Hill, railroad baron, in his mansion on Summit Avenue.

cluedollhouse

Bluebeard’s Dollhouse is playing at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul on the weekends through October 15. Please visit the website for the Combustible Company for tickets and showtimes. I suggest going with a brave friend!

While exiting the house after the performance, I started to think of the game of Clue. I found this photo on the Facebook page for the Combustible Company, which looks like the game of Clue! I also overheard another audience member refer to it. It’s not like Clue, and yet, could it have been Mr. Bluebeard in the sewing room with the knife?

Several shows have been staged at the historical Hill House, and more are coming. To learn more about them, and this production, read Chris Hewitt’s article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

And, let your imagination run wild this Halloween season!

Journaling Prompt: Have you ever experienced live theater in an unusual setting? Is there a place where you live that would make a good setting for a production?

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