Intiman Theatre has sold me on their new Summer Theatre Festival format with a repertory company. As I write about this fourth and last show, "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen, I have to note that part of the fun of seeing all the shows has been to watch the same actors showing up in very different roles. In the audience, we begin to recognize favorites and enjoy watching them show off their acting range.
I finally noticed during this last production something I had been unconsciously aware of previously: Intiman has asked local DJ’s to put together play lists for each production which help to set the mood. I hope they continue this trend next year because the music created a wonderful backdrop for each show.
The set for "Hedda Gabler," designed by Jennifer Zeyl, captured me right from the beginning. Monochromatic in blacks, whites and grays, the space immediately gives the audience a sense of distance and coolness. It feels like the set goes back and back forever in a sea of sheet-covered furniture and chandeliers, but immediately after the opening two sheets are drawn up to become walls and limit the space, echoing the limitations of the people in the play.
I’ll just say it right out: I don’t like Ibsen. His plays are full of people living tedious, horrible, narrow little lives, and "Hedda Gabler," directed by Andrew Russell, is no exception. I had hoped that this marvelous company could sell me on the play, but it was not to be.
Written in 1890, the play is dated. As Russell says of his production, "We’ve tried to swipe the dust off of the play with an efficient edit of the script, and a bit of levity where it can be afforded, and, with a choreographer, have uncaged Hedda in this classic text." Unfortunately, sometimes when a script is modernized it loses the very context that creates sense. While modernizing the language certainly made the play less dry, it also made Hedda (Marya Sea Kaminski) seem like a manipulative and sociopathic bully. I found myself wishing Hedda would just get it over with and kill herself in the first act so we could all go home.
In the story Hedda, a bored and spoiled young woman, has just come back from her honeymoon with Jorgen Tesman (Ryan Fields), but it’s clear they’re not your usual honeymoon couple. Hedda snipes at him bitterly, and he is lost in his books, coming out every now and then to marvel at this prize he has won and worry about supporting her whims. When asked why she married him without love, she replies, "I was tired of the dance." In the original script, she is trapped by the constraints of her time. In this version, it’s hard to understand why they stay with one another, making each other miserable.
At one point Hedda says of the smell of lavender and rose petals in the house, "There is an odor of mortality. It reminds me of a bouquet the day after the ball." In the play, Hedda is the bouquet nearing the end of its life. Frustrated by her husband’s scholarly interests and lack of ambition, jealous of the relationship between her old flame Lovborg (Michael Place) and Thea Elvsted (Fawn Ledesma), a girlhood acquaintance whom she tormented, she sets in motion a series of events that leads to Lovborg’s death.
After Lovborg’s death, she is surprised by a new relationship beginning between Thea and Jorgen to try and recreate together Lovborg’s manuscript that Hedda destroyed. Worse, Judge Brack (Timothy McCuen Piggee), another old flame and friend of the family knows that the pistol that killed Lovborg belonged to Hedda, and blackmails her with the knowledge. Driven by desperation, she shoots herself.
Marya Sea Kaminski as Hedda is marvelous, sensual like a cat that wants petting, but just as cruel and unpredictable with her claws. As noted, choreographer Olivier Wevers gave her a vocabulary of movement used to jarring effect throughout the play, culminating in the final scene which is performed as a dance by Kaminski with the rest of the actors moving in slow motion around her, until the final shot when the sheets separating the rooms fall and the performers move back into real time and realize Hedda is dead.
The final dance scene was easily my favorite part of the show and I almost wished the entire production had been done as a dance piece rather than a play. Moody and effective, the dance captured my attention and imagination.
Timothy McCuen Piggee was also wonderfully multi-layered as Judge Brack with his clear friendship for the couple, edged with a nasty desire for Hedda.
In the end, all of this talent wasn’t enough to sell me on the show. Intiman Theatre, on the other hand, has me eagerly awaiting next summer’s selections.
"Hedda Gabler" runs through August 26 at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St. in Seattle. For info or tickets, call (206) 441-7178 or visit www.intiman.org.