Review: HEDDA GABLER at Limelight Theatre

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A LIMELIGHT THEATRE REVIEW

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM

St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened “Hedda Gabler,” its first show of 2017 on the Matuza Main Stage on January 27 for a run through February 19. For reservations and additional information, call 904-825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org.

Director Mike Beaman, who is currently the Drama Instructor at St. Augustine High School, is making his Limelight debut with the show. While this classic play by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright, was written in 1890, Limelight’s version is a recent adaptation by Mark O’Rowe, an Irish playwright, and is a first for this area.

Ibsen is best known to modern audiences for “A Doll’s House,” written in 1879, which has been widely performed and is a favorite for many theatre patrons, as it tells the story of Nora, a young wife who happily finds the courage to free herself from an oppressive marriage. Hedda is a different character altogether; older, more conflicted, burdened by her past, perhaps pregnant, trapped in a loveless marriage, and bored. Despairingly bored. Beaman and the talented cast bring Ibsen’s mercurial heroine (or anti-heroine) and her troubles to the stage, and invite the audience to consider what life was like for women in a past world where marriage was their only hope for a secure future.

16143457_10155333074980663_3160689183771278560_oThe setting is the spacious home of George and Hedda Tesman in Norway in the late 19th century; the couple has just returned from a lengthy honeymoon. The sparse set by Domenic Grasso uses the entire stage, with furnishings that include an upholstered settee and chair, a piano, a desk, and a free-standing stove for heating.

Costumer Tracy Olin created the wonderful wardrobe for the show with lovely period gowns for the women and suits for the men. Carl Liberatore’s evocative lighting, along with music by sound operator Maria Tolzmann, gave polish and presence to the show.

Also in her Limelight debut, Sharon Resnikoff appears as Hedda. She has an extensive resume filled with film, television, and theatre references, and previously sang in St. Augustine’s Gamble Rogers Music Festival. In theatrical circles, the demanding challenge of portraying Hedda, a woman filled with discontent and psychological complexities, is often considered the female equivalent of the challenge of portraying Hamlet. Resnikoff’s performance is marvelous as she portrays one of theater’s most elusive characters, a woman who longs for freedom and a fulfilling future, and who is also often cruel, destructive, and manipulative.

Actor Thomas Muniz is Jorge Tesman, her scholarly academic husband, a decent enough guy, but unexciting. Mr. Muniz is noted for his wonderfully comic roles on this stage in “The Addams Family” and “Spamalot.”

The popular Heather Eggleston is excellent as Thea Elvsted, Hedda’s former schoolmate who is involved in a scandalous relationship with writer Elijert Lovborg (Jan Peter Buksar); he also was once Hedda’s lover. Buksar moved here from New York in 2013 and has since appeared in ten previous plays in Jacksonville and St. Augustine theatres.

Theatre veteran Bob Pritchard portrays Judge Black, and is perfect in the role of a family friend with a distinguished appearance who is unrelenting in his lascivious insistence that Hedda agree to intimacy in a “triangular relationship.” Pritchard is a veteran with two national tours (in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Wizard of Oz”) included in his resume. He currently resides in Palm Coast, Florida and will be directing “I Ought to Be in Pictures” for Limelight in the spring.

Rounding out the cast are Francesca Bellavista, a London trained actress, as Aunt Julle and Ann Van Gieson as Berte, the Tesman’s maid. We expect to see both of these talented ladies in future shows.

We aren’t going to provide details about the ending here, other than to say it’s a shocker but not totally unexpected. Limelight in St. Augustine does a terrific job with Ibsen’s story, so don’t miss this masterpiece.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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