Sunday, March 14, 2010

And Yet Another Review

They're comin' thick and fast now, boy ...

Theatre Review – Hedda Gabler
Curtain Players Community Theatre 03/14/10

When the play Hedda Gabler was first produced in 1891, audiences didn’t understand it, and reviewers failed to recognize it as the great classic it would become. And when we say “it,” of course we refer to the central character of Hedda. She alone drives the plot forward. She alone makes the unremarkable characters around her remarkable, bending them to her formidable will.

In fact, if this was a one person play, it would still be fascinating.

Hedda is a study in contrasts. She hates her place in the society of her age, yet almost desperately wants to be accepted by it. She finds a sense of obliged destiny fulfilled by being married, but has nothing but disdain for her husband. Being raised by a single parent (a father in the military), her interests do not at all reflect those of proper young ladies during the latter part of the Victoria influenced era. Her open yearning for equality is her attraction, and the very denial of it determines not only her character, but also her fate.

Knowing all this in advance, I was intrigued to see how Curtain Players would handle an epic play in a petite theatre.

Frankly, they did pretty well.

The setting for the play is both comfortable and bright. Since the audience area is only six rows deep, there is an abiding intimacy here. Likewise the costumes appeared to be correct (and expensive) to my untrained eye. “Job well done” to designers Matt Hermes and Drew Washburn, and to costumer Joyce Leahy.

In a cast of worthy performances, Micah Jenkins first stands out. As the cuckold husband, his presentation of subtle weakness was constantly creative. I was impressed. I often forgot I was watching someone act.

I never forgot I was watching acting when I saw Joe Lusher as the judge. I wasn’t surprised to read of his Shakespearian background. I can only describe his performance as “rich.” I would occasionally back away from the involvement of the work to just enjoy pure style.

As the writer Lovborg, I was impressed with the raw power that Jeremy Ryan Brown brought to the set. He was the only male in the cast who could consistently stand up to the Godzilla-like personality of Hedda Gabler.

In a strong supporting role was Laura Miller as Thea. She must be good. I disliked the weakness in this character from her first moment on stage.

Also in smaller roles were Nancy Meyer and Linda Browning Hughes. In both cases I would like to have seen more.

And then there’s Hedda … When she first stepped on stage, Emma Bach reminded me of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. After three minutes she reminded me of Lady Macbeth. By the end of the evening I wasn’t sure exactly what I had seen – other than it wasn’t going to fit well into any of my pre-conceived boxes. Here is a character so complex, so driven, yet so fragile … Ms Bach handled it all with seeming ease. In addition she added an almost hypnotic charm – one of those “I-am-the-flame-you-are-the-moth” kind of things.

With the high quality of everything else, I was disappointed with the direction. For example, the character of Hedda was too openly domineering, right from the beginning. A softer start would have allowed the character to “grow”, revealing more depth. What bothered me the most was the amateurish blocking – the unmotivated moving of people from one side of the set to another. Often three people would be jockeying for position to see who stands next to whom. Not good. And likely these mistakes might have been unnoticed if the quality of acting was less than it is.

Hedda Gabler will continue to be performed at Curtain Players Community theatre this coming weekend.


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