Review by Danny Gaisin
Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen may have scripted HEDDA GABLER back in 1890, but Theatre Erindale’s director Melee Hutton has taken the original and created an inspired rendering that not only makes the story contemporary, but totally more meaningful for today and today’s audiences. This is a virtuosic and motivated regeneration of a classic eponymous nameplate. The title character’s name rhymes with a common synonym for shoemaker and she ‘gobbles’ and devours everyone around her. Obsessive; sociopathic; and totally amoral- Gabler is the epitome of uncaring bitch. Thus; a role any actor would die for. Photo by Jim Smagata
Hutton opens her adaptation with a bare stage & revolving door, then has the character Judge Brack pedantically decorate what will be the new marital home. As portrayed by Shawn Robert Doyle, he’s an enthusiastic academic even to a point of utilizing the six-month honeymoon as a research opportunity rather than a marital bonding opportunity. Intellectually, he’s socially not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Given Doyle’s mannerisms and projected impressions; most males will easily identify with his character. A manipulative so-called friend and local judge is played by Brett Houghton who the audience soon realizes is in-reality a ‘frenemy’ with the hots for Hedda. Both men contribute their best efforts but as support roles in what Hutton has made into a triumvirate of powerhouse female protagonists.
The catalyst of the trio is Thea, who is and was acquainted with both George & Hedda. Now in an unhappy marriage, her exit from the relationship is to renew the bond. Both she and Hedda are also somewhat involved with the third side of the triangle. In the original, this character was George’s former roommate…Hutton recreates Eyert Lovborg as a demi-monde female named Anastasia. Now a competitor of George’s for a professorship, she’s the fuse just waiting to blow up the emotional C-4 explosive.
Thea IS Lauren Wolanski and she brings a restrained reading to her role interpretation. By muting her character, she allows both her counterparts to assume alpha dog personas. There is a restrained fortitude about her that the audience realizes will probably manifest itself…and it does. I liked and understood her! The title character is superbly presented by Rachel VanDuzer who utilizes every stance; posture; facial expression and pause to overstate the degree of ennui and total lack of empathy a Hedda Gabler persona represents. The lady can even make sitting down something erotic and provocative. VanDuzer displays an uncanny ability to disparage with just the slightest hint of animosity – something this writer (and others) noted about the false smiles of a certain Hillary Clinton.
The created persona of Anastasia is shaped by Giovanna Pandullo and she steals the show. Her almost subdued dynamism and diverse relationships with Hedda and Thea ring true and totally credible. Her previous lesbian liaison with the former, and mentor/mentee with the latter are representative of most people’s differing roles within their own relationships. Pandullo can even hyperventilate effectively.
The creative re-writing and direction is intense with no subtlety or understatement. The timeframe is contemporary but with certain inconsistencies. The euphemistic term ‘Sapphic’ and the need for an escort given today’s (1960’s) taxi availability are anachronistic. Picayune criticisms given the overall innovation that is Erindale’s and Melee Hutton’s take on an iconic drama. HEDDA GABLER is onstage at UTM’s Theatre Erindale until Feb. 5th.