Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hedda Gabler at Harlequin

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 17, 2016

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
Henrik Ibsen’s classic play Hedda Gabler as adapted and directed by Aaron Lamb for Harlequin Productions is just as relevant and contemporary today as it was when it premiered at the end of the 19th century; although it is probably not as shocking as it was then — not because the play has in any way been toned down, but because today’s audiences have become jaded.

Ibsen was famous for being the first modern realist as well as for being an early feminist. Lamb’s adaptation of Hedda Gabler is every bit as realistic and feminist as anything being written today.
There is a possibly apocryphal quote attributed to Chekov: “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.” Well there’s a gun featured on the program cover and posters for Hedda Gabler, and it definitely goes off; but you couldn’t get me to tell me when or who shoots whom if you waterboarded me.

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler and Chris Shea as Ejlert Lovborg. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
The play revolves around the title character, who smoothly and effortlessly demands audience attention whenever she is on stage. Hedda, as played by Helen Harvester, epitomizes the most glamorous, spoiled, and bored of modern women. Lambert described her in program notes as “feisty, droll, intelligent, fatally ignorant of the world, snobby, mean-spirited, small-minded, cold, bored, vicious, eager, terrified. She is addictive, alluring, beautiful. She is the most interesting person in the room. Always. Like her or not, you will — you must — see her.”

Depicting such a character is a tall order for any actor, and Harvester is fully up to the challenge. Her physicality and languid movements capture the character as I can only imagine Ibsen dreamed an actor could. (This sleek physicality seems to be a Harvester trademark. She was, after all, the actor who became the werewolf in Harlequin’s Mating Dance of the Werewolf.) Her appearance contributes tremendously — the shock of short blonde hair, her haughty expressions, and the dresses and lingerie that are like liquid silk poured over her body (kudos to costume designer Lucy Gentry-Meltzer). These costumes are tailor made to fit with the ultra-modern set by Jeannie Beirne.

Helen Harvester as Hedda Gabler and John Serembe as Mr. Back, set designed by Jeannie Beirne. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions
The set is the upscale apartment of Hedda and her husband, J├Ârgen Tesman (Josh Krupke). It is all bright white and clean, hard lines with brilliant lighting by Amy Chisman. And it makes use of a revolve, not just as a way of changing scenes, but in an active and breathtakingly integral part of the story.

I experienced some difficulty hearing and understanding some of the dialogue in the opening act, but by the second act I was thoroughly engrossed in the story and in the characters. The seven-person cast is excellent. Krupke is great as the husband too wrapped up in his own pursuits to notice his glamorous wife. Emily Fortuna as Hedda’s overwrought friend, Thea, and Chris Shea as Hedda’s former lover, Ejlert, are both excellent, and John Serembe as the arrogant and slimy Mr. Brack sets your teeth on edge.

Hedda Gable is a dark, disturbing, often witty play that is well acted and beautifully staged.
Hedda Gabler, Thursday through Saturday, 8p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. through March 26, Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, ticket prices vary, call for details, 360-786-0151;

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