An entire play taking place in the comfort of one room might sound strikingly boring to some, yet Henrik Ibsen, the creator of the 1890s play Hedda Gabler, succeeded in making it exhilarating.
Ibsen wrote a letter to one of his colleagues in December 1890 stating, “My intention in giving this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife.” This kind of familial dysfunction, disconnection and discord drives the gripping drama.
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre is currently staging this one-setting play which shows how Hedda faces the battles of the domestic sphere in 19th-century Norway.
Theater lovers interested in modern dramas, rebellion and violent demonstrations of power and manipulation are sure to enjoy the final stagings of this production, mounted through Feb. 19 at this intimate theater.
Sharon Resnikoff is brilliant as Hedda Gabler, a newly married aristocrat who is unwilling to accept the rôle of a passive wife, the usual fate to which women were relegated in that era. Born the daughter of a famous general, Hedda is accustomed to the finer things in life and refuses anything that is not up to her standards. Throughout the play, we see Hedda use her intelligence to manipulate her husband and friends with recurring acts that make her seem dishonest and unpredictable. Resnikoff is skilled at capturing both the complexity and tragedy of the title character.
In the opening scene, we discover that Hedda and her well-heeled husband Jorge Tesman (Thomas Muniz) have returned from a six-month-long honeymoon to a lavish home that Tesman bought to impress his new bride. Yet this stately manor looks like a prison to Hedda’s eyes. The fact that the new home was purchased by Jorge’s Aunt Julle (played by Francesca Bellavista) only adds to Hedda’s resentment that her groom is not the deep-pocketed husband on whose fortune she had banked.
Considered a masterpiece of 19th-century realism, Hedda Gabler is fueled by parallel and serpentine subplots, all fueled by Hedda’s proficient skills at sheer manipulation. In the classic leitmotif of the Greeks’ hubris, or excessive pride, Hedda’s attempts at controlling people and outcomes lead to a truly unhappy ending.
The production of Hedda Gabler surely benefits from a talented ensemble including Bob Pritchard as Judge Brack, Ann Van Gieson as Berte, Heather Eggleston (Thea Elvsted), Jan Peter Buksar (Eljert Lovborg) and Francesca Bellavista (Aunt Julle). The actors capture the depth of their characters’ personalities and the impact of Hedda’s deceptive demeanor that damages their respective lives.
Lascivious, jaded and aloof, Hedda hides behind her many shortcomings as kinds of armor that protect her true desires: to find freedom and be loved. Yet this anti-heroine’s attempts to run the lives of those around her and the results of her efforts come to a grotesque conclusion when she experiences an unforeseen judgment.
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler remains a true masterpiece of modern theater. And now locals can experience for themselves this pioneering work delivered by the deft cast and crew of the Limelight Theatre.