Photo Credit: Jeff Farkash
by Julia Polinsky
Bark’s speed-dating pace cuts Ibsen’s problem play down to a 90-minute,
high-concept version. Clickbait-worthy headlines on the promotional material (“Hedda
Tesman (nee Gabler) has everything, but wants none of it.”), and those
parentheses around her name: these clues, among others, send you all kinds of
signals that this is not your mother’s Hedda Gabler.
one thing, remarkably, the words “Henrik Ibsen” never appear in the program.
Matt Minnicino gets an “adapted by” credit, and he definitely takes precedence
as re-writer for this production. Minnicino’s adaptation makes for a good-parts
version, leaving in all the nasty incidents. Here, Ibsen’s complex problem play
gets pared to the bone, with none of that tedious, long-winded exposition that
just gets in the way of a good story. Not much Ibsen makes it into this Hedda
– most remarkably, not the iconic end of the most famous unhappy wife in modern
the lack of actual Ibsen, there is much to admire in this production. Hedda
(Gabler) features an evocative black-box set that handsomely telegraphs
“rich folks’ house” with just a few props, some furniture, an implicit window
and entranceway. David McQuillen Robertson’s scenic and lighting design very
nicely signifies expensive taste without having to display it, in a
non-representational set that evokes stuffy propriety in black and red.
Joseph Mitchell Parks makes good use of his strong cast, especially the
Nordic-remote Valerie Redd as a Hedda who can’t seem to believe what’s
happened, is happening, will happen. She keeps touching herself, carefully, as
if to establish that she’s real, at least her body is. Redd’s Hedda destroys
lives; brandishing pistols and burning manuscripts, betraying some people,
belittling others, encouraging great gestures and kvetching about hair, she is
at once petty and grand. If she tips over into an over-the-top moment or two,
who can blame her? The production demands it, focusing as it does on what
happens, not why.
Schaefer as Tesman gives us a credibly tedious George; how the strongminded and
desirable Hedda Gabler threw herself away on this fiddly, small-minded twit
remains a mystery.
MacSweeny’s Judge Brack gives a less than villainous performance, considering
he arranges sexual blackmail to control Hedda; more engagement from him would
have been more effective.
Franzen’s Lovborg has an air of the jejune about him. Lovborg can be hard to
like, or even understand; the mores of the time demand that he be ruined for
behaving like 99% of NYU frat boys, so his troubles can seem laughable to a
contemporary audience (yes, this audience laughed.) His counterpart, the
terribly dedicated, terribly sincere Thea Elvsted (ably played by Susanna
Stahlmann), makes even less sense to us moderns.
design by Jason Frey reminds us that costume is character, particularly with
Hedda’s blue gown, Iits asymetrical seams and twisted draping remind us that
Hedda herself is askew, does not fit where she is. The frumpy Aunt Julia
((Kathleen Marsh) gets grey, black, and dowdy clothing and the disparaged hat
that Hedda uses to belittle her. Thea flits through in beige and pale pink;
it’s as if she’s wearing an optimist’s rose-colored glasses on her body. By
contrast, the men’s costumes are are dull reminders that conformity matters,
complete with spats.
interesting choreography by Brad Landers creates atmosphere from the start.
Wait – what? Choreography? In a straight play? In Ibsen?
and it works like a charm. Hedda (Gabler) has been pared down to
incident; it needs this choreographed, evocative opening to tell the backstory.
That opening scene: mostly in the dark, the cast comes to the center of the
stage, dances in a circle, and one by one, they come to the front, and preen,
or cringe, or strut, or wither. They are spotlit, as if they were looking into
a mirror, and pleased -- or not -- with what they see. We are treated to a full
description of who they are and what they want, without a single word said, as
they regard themselves, then dance, change partners, and change partners again.
A splendid theatre moment.
plays a strong part in other parts of the play, particularly when Hedda and
Lovborg confront each other, either in memory or in person. We are deeply
unsettled when each of them brandishes Something Important; that tips over into
threat, as they move together in an excellent, confrontational dance.
you’ve always wanted to see speed-Ibsen without the long-winded language and
exposition, but all the drama of the unvarnished story, you’ll be pleased with
Wandering Bark’s Hedda (Gabler). See it while you can; performances are
brief, in more senses than one.
Bark Theatre Company’s Hedda (Gabler)
Theater, 154 Christopher Street, New York, NY
October 8; Tickets $15/18