By Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Eric Zivot
Starring Robb Ross, Melanie Whipple, Steven Lane
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Fl</strong>
Hedda Gabler: proto feminist, victim of circumstance, female Hamlet – take your pick. Tonight she’s a conniving little social climber with a brace of pistols on the dining room table, just in case someone needs to fight a duel of honor or politely excuse themselves from her social climb in the salons of Oslo. Just as soon as the maid Berta (Sara Humbert) finishes dusting the exposition, we meet the feisty Hedda (Whipple). She married dishrag and scholar George Tesman (Ross) who is more interested in medieval French domestic industries than modern Norwegian bedroom activities. His appointment is at risk, rival and alcoholic Lovborg (Lane) prepared a sensational manuscript that will vault him to notoriety over Tesman. I always recommend bringing the single copy of your life’s work along when you go out for a hard night’s drinking, otherwise how else would Tesman find it in the snow? Oily Judge Brack discovers Hedda has destroyed the manuscript and plans to use that fact for a little side entertainment. Thank goodness for everyone those decorative pistols come complete with powder and caps.
Like all early century northern European manners plays, this one is crammed into a suffocatingly congested set. Large chairs fill the narrow aisle between the audience and even in the back row you’re always close enough to see Hedda’s pores. Whipple’s crimped and hennaed hair and fussy dress scream “I’m respectable! I have money” even as Tesman’s demeanor and shabby vest whisper “I hope someday to sit at the cool table in the faculty lounge.” There’s some chemistry between Lane’s dissolute young genius and Hedda and as soon as we see him it’s obviously she played the wrong hand. Agent provocateur Judge Brack moves effortlessly between moral dilemma and relentless self gratification – Lanier often plays the frustrated loser, but as a man with hidden power he’s actually a bit intimidating. Opposite Hedda is her friend and puppet Mrs. Elvsted (Emily Killian,) she’s left one husband and has Lovborg’s working notes. She may be a pushover but she’s dangerous to Hedda’s position and Brack might not help Hedda, but we will help himself. There’s nowhere to go now, so we might as well turn off the lights.
Director Zivot build a powerful set of emotions in this tiny space – while Hedda’s social position is subject to forces she can no longer control, she still wields some power over the men surrounding her. She ably leverages desire and availably to recover her original goal, but like a man levering granite blocks on top of one another slippage is always an option, and failure a painful crushing force that you initiate but cannot stop.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com