Welcome To The Dollhouse

If you don’t like your reality, create a new one. So believes young Lina (Kendra Mylnechuk, in this performance, Brenda Jean Foley in others) an imaginative young girl who can only cope with her loveless household if she regards her family as toys that “may or may not really exist.” Lina’s “toys” live in a fancy white dollhouse and reside in the idyllic Nantucket – not the one in Massachusetts, she explains – a different one that does not really exist. Written by Amy Fox and directed by Terry Berliner, One Thing I Like To Say Is takes audiences behind dollhouse doors into a reality so cold one can understand why Lina and her older brother, Toby (Brian Gillespie) spent their young lives trying to escape it.

Though presented by the Cockeyed Optimist Theater Company – a company whose mission is to share the “positive essence of being human” the optimism in this tale of broken homes and severed family ties is not immediately clear. But halfway through the production takes a surprising turn, blossoming into a sensitive and touching story about the resiliency of the human spirit to show love even when encumbered by a life where love has never been shown.

Wilson Chin designed the stage to resemble the whimsical interior of a dollhouse, decorated with brightly colored walls and lime green furniture. Even the characters look as if they were plucked from the shelves of a toy store.

Mylnechuk wears a bright pink dress that bounces when she walks. She has wide childlike eyes and a huge smile that refuses to leave her face, even in the worst of times. Gillespie also maintains a happy plastic front. He reveals his character’s insecurities in his nervously wringing hands and wild, unsettled eyes, always searching the room for an escape route.

Within the walls of this life sized dollhouse we meet Toby and Lina’s mother (played by Gillespie in earrings and a pink beaded necklace,) an unfaithful wife and drunk, and their father (played by Mylnechuk with a deep growling voice and reading glasses) also a drunk with a suggestion of violent tendencies. We also meet Lina’s alter ego -- a Scottish butler who dotes on Toby and manufactures happy moments to distract him from running away from home.

Toby is clearly the only ray of sunshine in Lina’s life and when their parents send him to reform school she stands in the center of her playroom, clenches her fists and screams with a deep, primal agony for her brother.

Sixteen years pass before a glimmer of optimism seeps into the lives of these doomed characters. It appears in the form of a lonesome teenager named Kevin (Michael Mattie) the possible biological son of either Lina or Toby. Though the siblings’ lives are hopelessly fractured when he arrives at their doorstep, Toby’s distressed wife, Sam (Jolie Curtsinger) graciously accepts Kevin into her home and more importantly, into her heart.

Sam is arguably the only sane character in this play. She fills the role that Lina wished a fictional Scottish butler could have filled years ago: a person strong enough and kind enough to hold her family together.

Fox’s tight, complex story arc acknowledges the depth of the siblings’ emotional problems but never judges their unusual coping methods. Their reluctance to completely surrender their childhood fantasies is understandable, especially since their shared imaginary games are the only pleasant memory of their past.

But in the spirit of optimism, this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, what’s so wrong with living in a dream world when the people you love most are living there with you?

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