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Release: Feb. 9, 2001

'A Doll House' meets Barbie Dreamhouse in 'Strange Attractors' at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University Theatres Mainstage will present the dark comedy "Strange Attractors" by Iowa Playwrights Workshop graduate student David Adjmi, Feb. 22 through March 4 in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 22-24 and Feb. 28-March 3, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 and March 4.

In "Strange Attractors," which was premiered last spring at the Iowa Playwrights Festival (now the Iowa New Play Festival), Ibsen's "A Doll House" meets Barbie's Dreamhouse.

The outlandish but plausible story follows Betsy, a young, nouveau-riche Manhattan socialite who is living the good life -- Park Avenue penthouse, MTV ad-exec hubby, live-in maid. She discovers her husband is ill and performs a radical sacrifice to save him.

Will she end up killing herself and everyone she loves in the process? Or has she found the unlikeliest road to nirvana since de Sade? Adjmi's script is a zany, terrifying take on love sex and morality in the 21st century.

Adjmi wrote the play as something of an etude -- an exercise in learning play structure and narrative progression. He took the events in a play he had recently taught, Ibsen's classic "A Doll House," emptied them of their original content, and wrote new material into the shell. "I was looking for a way to make my plays really active, so I found this really facile way of doing it."

"A Doll House" was an explosive choice. Ibsen's play, which now can seem rather quaint, provoked furious controversy in Sweden in the late 19th century. Not only did the play include blackmail, forgery, syphilis and raw sexual tension, but it featured a dissatisfied housewife whose self-realization leads to the unthinkable act of leaving her husband. Nora's emancipation so infuriated audiences that some productions substituted an alternate ending in which she yields to her family obligations.

Adjmi started writing in the "Doll House" template without a clear narrative concept, but with an inspiration about the juxtaposition of the classical and contemporary weirdness. "I was at a gallery exhibition by a painter I really like, John Currin, and the paintings were sort of influenced by the Dutch Masters, but then they were done up like Hustler pin-ups, Vargas girls or Playboy cartoons," he explains. "There was something about the tension between the old and the creepy. There was something really haunting about the looks on these women's faces -- something kind of stultified or numbed but sort of cheery. I had a very visceral response to it."

Like Nora in "A Doll House," Betsy is looking for an escape, but in his comic nightmare she is so disoriented that she eventually contradicts her intentions -- she confuses emancipating herself with hurting herself. And in thoroughly contemporary style, Betsy turns to the internet to find expression for her alternate self.

In the process of writing the play, a dark satire took on more and more elements of tragedy, creating a play that is propelled by the tension between the tragic and the comic -- and between the classical and the contemporary. "I wanted to confront popular culture in terms of all the contradictions it brings out in us -- how people are mistaken for objects; that we don't know how to relate to something unless we are buying it," Adjmi says. "All the characters in this play are self-sabotaging, self destructive. They are steeped in denial, lost to themselves."

Since the UI premiere, Adjmi's comic nightmare "Strange Attractors" has been produced at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in San Francisco and the A.S.K. Theatre Project, and read at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

The University Theatres production of "Strange Attractors" is directed by New York-based artist Sonja Moser, a frequent collaborator with Adjmi. Other artistic contributors include set designer Michael McGarty, costume designer Laura Thudium, lighting designer Kelly PerkinsSmith, sound designer Ethan Bade and dramaturg Victoria Stewart.

"Strange Attractors" includes material of an adult nature, and cigarette smoking. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether the production is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700, for additional information.

University Theatres is the performance arm of the UI Department of Theatre Arts, which is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts.

Tickets for "Strange Attractors" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to
(319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial
(319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

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