In `Hedda Gabler,' nuance is lacking

Kittamaqundi Theatre tackles work by Ibsen

November 01, 2001|By Arthur Laupus | Arthur Laupus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Theda Bara, the legendary actress of the silent screen, was the original Vamp, but she pales in contrast to Hedda Gabler, the selfish, immoral and conniving vixen created by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen some 20 years before Theda started leading men to their cinematic doom.

Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler, at the Kittamaqundi Theatre in Oliver's Carriage House in Columbia through Saturday, is the tale of a bored middle-class housewife married to an aspiring pillar of the community, scholar George Tesman. She seeks diversion in the attentions of the lecherous, less-than-scrupulous Judge Brack and in the two pistols left to her by her father, weapons that foreshadow the tragedies which occur in the final act.

When Hedda discovers that her longtime acquaintance, Thea Elvsted, has left her husband for a writer, Eilert Lovborg, a former beau of Hedda's, she becomes vengeful. Hedda then pursues Lovborg purely for the game of it, tempts him, plies him with liquor and manages to burn a promising manuscript he has written.

Not content with this, Hedda exploits his despair by giving him one of the pistols with which to commit suicide. He complies.

She is able to rationalize her behavior by relating it to her selfish whims. She tells Judge Brack that Lovborg's suicide gave her " ... a feeling of release in knowing that there really can be such a thing as free and fearless action. Something irradiated with spontaneous beauty."

Judge Brack, however, is on to Hedda's game, and he confronts her with her actions and attempts to blackmail her into becoming his mistress. Hedda has been one-upped. She realizes the game is over and commits suicide with the other pistol.

Kellner's performance certainly has energy and focus. But, she lacks the nuances and subtleties that would give the character needed complexity. Hedda is evil, but she is also witty, charming and sexy, traits lacking in Kellner's portrayal. If she would reduce the strut and swagger and adopt a more sophisticated, regal demeanor, Hedda would be less frenetic and overbearing.(Note to the costumier: Kellner's hair is too contemporary. It doesn't jibe with the Victorian dress. )

Veteran actor Bruce Leipold, as Hedda's husband George, definitely has the core of the character, a weak, ineffectual status-seeking clod, but he, too, is a bit over the top, especially in the early going. He does have a fine scene with Hedda when he discovers that she burned Lovborg's manuscript.

Steve Beall, as Judge Brack, wears the role like an old smoking jacket; he is focused, subtle and always in command of his performance. He lets the audience see that the wheels are always turning, and that Brack is constantly scheming to achieve his ends. Bravo! But Stephen Namie, in the role of Lovborg, does not communicate the awe and utter fascination he has for Hedda.

In supporting roles, Stephanie Roswell (Thea Elvsted), Barbara Franklin (Aunt Julie) and Dede Newport (Berta) are fine.

The spartan set and props by Stephen Namie and Bruce Leipold are visually appealing in establishing the time period. The lighting design and execution by Steve Teller, Fran Miller and Diette Yoshioko are effective and enhance the overall mood of the production.

But the stage, on the second floor, is small, with the audience in close on three sides, and herein lies the main problem for some of the performers. Because of the intimacy of the stage, Kellner might be more effective in the title role if she gave a more television-style performance.

The selection of music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, while helpful in establishing time and place, is used too sparingly. A suggestion: Extend the length of the selections played before the acts.

The Kittamaqundi Theatre will present Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" at 8 p.m. tomorrow and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at Oliver's Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, off Vantage Point Road in Columbia.

Tickets are $12 at the door; tickets purchased in advance or by senior citizens and students are $10. Information: 410-997-3981.

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