by Lynn on January 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs

Written by Henrik Ibsen
A new adaptation by Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Set and costumes by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Music and sound by E.C. Woodley
Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Frank Cox-O’Connell
Steve Cumyn
Hailey Gillis
Kate Hennig
Christopher Morris
Cara Ricketts

Cara Ricketts captures the allure, hauteur, and quiet danger of Hedda Gabler in Jennifer Tarver’s respectable production of the play.

The Story. Hedda Gabler was written by Henrik Ibsen in 1890. It’s about Hedda Gabler, a woman desired by many men, but for propriety’s sake decides to marry the boring, but besotted, George Tesman, a scholar. He goes into debt trying to give her the lifestyle she wants and expects. She also wants to control another person’s destiny. Hedda is haughty, bored and consumed with frustration that she doesn’t have control over another person. And worse, she’s pregnant. As a result she doesn’t even have control over her own destiny.

A former lover, Eilert Lovborg, reappears in Hedda’s life and she tries to control him. Eilert’s muse, Mrs. Elvsted, also follows him from the country to the city. She is the bravest character in the play—ignoring societal convention and following her heart. Judge Brack is another of Hedda’s admirers. He is charming and rakish with a murky history that intrigues Hedda but under no circumstances can she get involved in that kind of life. She loves hearing about Brack’s sordid escapades, but keeping up appearances is uppermost in her mind. Avoiding scandal at all cost is how a person of her station lives. When she feels even more trapped by circumstances Hedda takes drastic steps to deal with them.

The Production. The adaptation of Jon Robin Baitz is used here and it’s accessible, poetic and true to the spirit of the play. It’s an adaptation as engaging as his own plays. Director Jennifer Tarver sets the production in the 1950s for some reason. Were society’s rules stricter in the 1950s than Norway in the 1890s? I wonder. E.C. Woodley provides moody film-noir music in the extended blackouts that add to the atmosphere of the piece. Designer Teresa Przybylski has designed a beautiful, simply appointed set that suggests the size and grandness of the house Tesman has bought.

Hedda’s clothes are stylish and I loved that she always wears a string of pearls wound tightly around her neck. Now that’s a statement of subtle confinement.

As Hedda, Cara Ricketts captures the allure, hauteur, and quiet danger of Hedda Gabler. I was also struck by how her boredom was palpable and made her anxious, frustrated and reckless. And rather than being a cold bitch all the time this Hedda has a kind of charm. This is a stirring performance.

As George Tesman, Frank Cox-O-Connell is boyish, perhaps child-like, a true innocent with little perception of the world. He remarks how Hedda has filled out but doesn’t twig to the fact that she’s pregnant. But he comes into his own when he is supported and encouraged, as he is by Mrs. Elvsted, to work on Lovborg’s papers and publish them.

As Lovborg, Christopher Morris is smouldering sensuality when dealing with Hedda. He is almost reckless with it. With other characters he is confident, direct, and forthright. Judge Brack is a slippery fellow and Steve Cumyn plays him well. Brack too is afraid of scandal and knows how to avoid it. He is also a master at knowing how to pray on the weaknesses of other. That’s how he gets control. His control over Hedda and his resulting confidence on how he will use it is wonderfully creepy.

Comment. Hedda Gabler is more than 100 years old. How is it relevant to today? Anyone trapped in a loveless marriage will identify with Hedda Gabler. Whether a person wants to control how you dress and act they will identify with Hedda who takes this to the extreme, to control another person’s destiny. General Gabler was Hedda’s father and we are led to believe that life with the General was not happy. He expected her to act in a certain way and to expect a certain lifestyle from her husband. We can see that carries over into her life without her father.

Much is made in the play of the gift General Gabler gave to Hedda—a pair of pistols. Now what is that? Is that a present from a loving father? One wonders. Hedda Gabler is emotionally damaged and many can identify with that too.

Hedda Gabler is trapped in a constrictive society that dictates how women should conduct themselves. For example, a woman cannot go out alone at night. She must be accompanied by a man to escort her home. A braver woman, Mrs. Elvsted for example, would challenge that society. Hedda was not brave and she took the only way out.

I can appreciate that Jennifer Tarver has a set idea about the play. She has noted she feels every character is blind in some way or other. I find that questionable. I can appreciate that it’s felt that Hedda feels trapped on a train with her husband and so there is a long sound effect of a train in the extended blackouts. However I don’t get the sense that Tarver digs deeply into the play. I assume that it’s a deliberate decision not to play Hedda with morning sickness. I just wonder why. Hedda is pregnant. She be dependent on this baby when it’s born, but there seems to be no discomfort in her pregnancy except for having to deal with comments about how filled out she looks or what the future will bring. The performances are fine. And it’s a respectable production. I wish it went deeper.

Presented by Necessary Angel in association with Canadian Stage.

Opened: January 14, 2016.
Closes: February 7, 2016.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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