At the Writers Theatre in Glencoe Hedda Gabler transports us to a comfortable country house on the outskirts of a Norwegian city. We meet seven characters who fill out the “good, bad and ugly” spectrum. As they line up and our view of them twists and turns as if in a kaleidoscope, we see them struggle, empower, and hurt one another. We see ourselves; we see the world, and we cannot help but be moved by the accuracy of Ibsen’s vision.
Consider the time: near the end of the 19th century. Consider the setting: icy, puritanical northern Europe. Some have money and power, others have nothing. Some are ruthlessly selfish, others are generous. We see Hedda’s father’s military portrait like a crucial eighth character lurking in the corner of the set. We see a wrapped baby grand piano and an enameled heating stove. It’s a space ready to welcome a young family, but the serpent slithers onto the scene and its poison leaches, infecting everyone in less than Aristotle’s ancient time limit of 24 hours. We keep asking why can’t beautiful, gifted Hedda be happy; why can’t she look beyond herself, and we are forced to ponder why she is ruled by her impulses, why selfishness and pride are all she knows. After she commits her final irreversible deed, Henrik Ibsen throws the ball into our laps with his ironic last line, “People don’t do things like that.”
Unfortunately, people do things like that as this microcosm of our human condition springs into action with deadly consequences. Leading this stellar performance, Kate Fry plays steely, newly married Hedda thrust into a world she seems determined to hate. Kimberly Senior as director of this powerful production has perhaps evoked not quite enough nuancing in terms of Hedda, who may be ultimately one of those multifaceted, mysterious characters we meet every day in drawing rooms. Sean Fortunato takes the role of her ebullient, nerdy scholar husband George Tesman. Judge Brack (Scott Parkinson) gives a show-stoppingly persuasive portrait of a corrupted magistrate under the long arm of the law, and Mark L. Montgomery takes on the reformed alcoholic-slash-creative writer, possibly a great genius, Eilert Lovborg. Barbara Figgins, Chaon Cross, and Kathleen Ruhl bring to life the subservient roles of women at that time. We come to love and/or hate each of these players. They may exist in a time and space distant from our own, but their natures illuminate truths we all know.
Tucked away in Glencoe, Writers Theatre turns its compact stage into a world whose pace and precision keep the audience engaged. Try to get a seat as close to the stage as possible since it’s vital to hear every word. From my spot in one of the back rows, I missed a few important bits of the dialogue.
Hedda Gabler runs through March 16th.
Information about transportation to Writers Theatre two locations and nearby restaurants can be found Here
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Brosilow