Sunday 24 January 2016

Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen, Bottoms Dream, Theater 54, New York City

The first time I saw Henrik Ibsen’s 1890 Hedda Gabler on stage was at the Old Vic in London in 2012. And it’s hard to imagine a starker contrast than between that traditionally staged and sumptuously costumed period production and Bottoms Dream’s studio performance, which I attended at Theater 54 in New York the other week.

This Hedda Gabler (adapted by Caitlin White) is stripped down, with only four characters, and performed in an intimate space with the audience surrounding the performers. Sara Fay George, as Hedda, spends much of the play writhing around the floor between scenes, playing with a pistol and acting out the drama unfolding in her subconscious. The subtleties of Ibsen give way to overt commentary on the lack of options open to the two women, Hedda and Thea (White), which is difficult since the costuming (by Mary Rubi) suggests a later, mid-twentieth-century setting.

The actors also seem inconsistent in their approach, as if there are some who do think they’re performing in a naturalistic production. Doug Durlcacher as George plays the role of the clueless husband quite predictably but comes into his own in the final scene as he and Thea reconstruct Eilert’s lost manuscript. Nat Angstrom meanwhile does a good job in capturing the character’s charisma.

Director Kevin Hollenbeck has chosen to put this Hedda Gabler in conversation with another perennial nineteenth-century favourite—August Strindberg’s 1888 Creditors (you can read my review of another NYC production of Creditors here). In this case, the two plays are performed back to back.

I only joined for the Ibsen play, but it’s easy to see the parallels two. Strindberg actually accused Ibsen of plagiarism in 1891, saying ‘Hedda Gabler is a bastard of Laura in The Father and Tekla in Creditors’. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder whether it might have been better to let the plays speak for themselves, rather than exposing the parallels through the stylised sequences between scenes.

Do you know of any plays currently being performed in New York that you think the Secret Victorianist should see? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist. 

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