Ibsen Reveals Dark Side of Marriage
by Rachel Norby
“Hedda Gabler,” the story of a woman trapped in the strict confines of a patriarchal society, comes to life at the Pear Theatre. Pencil skirts, leggings, and color photographs indicate that the story takes place in the present day, rather than in Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 Norway. Skillfully acted, we feel unsymathetic toward almost every character, making Ibsen’s story of the Colonel’s daughter deeply human and unsettling.
From the start, absent-minded Professor George Tesman (modest Troy Johnson) is completely engrossed in his academic research. Tesman, oblivious to his wife, stand-offish Hedda (commanding Elizabeth Kruse Craig) ignores her, takes her for granted. Right after their honeymoon, Hedda is overwhelmingly bored by her mundane marriage and self-absorbed husband.
As a legally powerless woman, Hedda has no power or profession to express herself openly. So, she tries to control the lives of her friends and servants through manipulation and deception. This is where director Dale Albright’s choice to set the production in modern times becomes tricky. In 1891, when the play was originally performed, women were totally dependent on men, making Hedda’s plight understandable. Today, however, many women recognize their power, so and it seems far-fetched that a woman would be so enslaved by her husband.
Though each actor performs admirably, their ages perplex me. These characters are too mature to be caught up in the foolishness of twenty-somethings. The combination of the modern setting and their ages make for some mental gymnastics, but the production still works.
Kruse Craig’s Hedda tangles herself in wonderful webs, wreaking havoc on her simpleton husband, her impressionable “friends,” and her frustrated self. She begins with Tesman’s Aunt Juliana (delightful Celia Maurice), declaring the sweet old woman’s hat more like a servant’s hat. Hedda eagerly alienates herself from Aunt Julia, and every acquaintance, each time making her less sympathetic.
Hedda constantly torments her servant Berta (capable Gretta Stimson), reminding us how the privileged often treat or think of the rest of us like second-class citizens.
Damaris Divito shines as Hedda’s old schoolmate Thea Elvsted. Thea exudes vulnerability, which Hedda preys on, seeing only “weakness.” Thea gets caught in Hedda’s unforgiving clutches because she has fallen in love with Hedda’s former suitor Eilert Lovborg (affable Michael Champlin).
Hedda’s boredom leads her to seek entertainment in unsavory people, like Tesman’s friend Judge Brack. Ron Talbot excels as the smarmy Judge Brack, who hints at being Hedda’s paramour. Brack finds an opportunity to blackmail Hedda, bringing legal threats down on the powerless woman. Hedda Gabbler is caught in a trap set by her father, husband, and the whole patriarchal set-up—made worse by the frustrating web she herself weaves.
Hedda’s feelings of being trapped are expressed most blatantly when, hearing of the apparent suicide of Lovborg, she notes with admiration that “he dealt with life on his own terms.” In all, an intriguing play with fascinating character studies.
Although “Hedda Gabler” may not be Ibsen’s most obviously feminist play, Kruse Craig and Director Dale Albright give us a woman whose powerful talents have been thwarted, making her despicable, pitiable, and truly human.
“Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Dale Albright, at Pear Theatre, Mountain View, California, through Sunday, October 28, 2018. Info: thepear.org
Cast: Gretta Stimson, Celia Maurice, Troy Johnson, Elizabeth Kruse Craig, Ron Talbot, Damaris Divito, and Michael Champlin.
Banner photo: Michael Champlin (Eilert Lovburg) and Betsy Kruse Craig (Hedda Gabler)