Through September 29
HEDDA GABLER Shaw Festival/Court House Theatre
By Augustine Warner
Richard Eyre's translation and Martha Henry's direction make clear “Hedda Gabler” is mentally ill.
Many productions and many translations dance around the issue.
Moya O'Connell's Hedda is ill, frustrated and ultimately suicidal.
Henrik Ibsen's play is depressing and filled with depressives, in this tale of late 19th Century Norway, in what will ultimately be the capital of the country.
Hedda is the daughter of an obsessively-loved general, with his portrait dominating William Schmuck's design.
As the play opens, she has just returned from a long honeymoon ramble through archival and academic research hot spots across Europe with new husband George Tesman (Patrick McManus), a clueless academic spending money he doesn't have in the expectations he will soon be nominated to a university teaching post.
Hedda doesn't like George much and really dislikes his two aunts and doesn't like most of the small town world around her.
There is one hope.
The alcoholic intellectual Eilert Loevborg (Gray Powell) has surfaced with a new book which is getting good writeups.
There is history here for the two, as well as Hedda's history with the venal and licentious Judge Brack (Jim Mezon), none apparently known to George.
Then, an old school mate of Hedda's surfaces, Thea Elvsted (Claire Jullien), who has been involved in a scandal in the far North, first as the lover of her boss while his wife dies and then apparently changing beds to be with Lovborg, tutor of the boss' children.
Determined not to be some passive woman in a male-dominated society, Hedda begins to play chess with human lives, George, Thea, Eilert and the judge.
She learns there is a new book, written by Eilert with a lot of help from Thea, apparently academic pillow talk.
The idea that Eilert is sober and thinking again seems to rile up Hedda, leading her to push him into a drunken party with the judge, George and the peers of the town.
Eilert doesn't return as scheduled but when George comes back he has Eilert's manuscript for what he considers a great book...the only copy.
Within hours, the manuscript is burned, Eilert has shot himself and Thea has agreed to help George recover the book.
Hedda his misread what's going on and ultimately takes one of her father's guns and kills herself, with Judge Brack sneaking away so he won't be there when the police arrive.
It's easy to realize why this play was a great scandal in the day, a woman who won't let life control her, instead deciding to control life and death.
Perhaps only Berthe the maid (Jennifer Phipps) and Aunt Juliana (Mary Haney) are pleasant, nice people.
Varying from drones to diseased.
Henry is working with a couple of really fine performances, O'Connell, Jullien, Powell and Mezon whose usually overdone performances switch here to a tightly controlled effort which makes clear what a bad man Judge Brack actually is.
In recent years, Mezon is more and more a teacher and director and that may be showing up in his acting roles.
McManus' George is a look at a man who has been protected from the world around him and has no sense of life in his adult years.
“Hedda Gabler” is one of those plays everyone talks about and most avoid.
This production is worth seeing.
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