Gabler Revels in Control, Betrayal and Luxe Costumes
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 02:02
This past weekend, the Kenyon College Dramatic Club (KCDC) put up its second mainstage production of the season. With nuanced acting and skilled costume and stage design, Visiting Assistant Professor of Drama Brant Russell’s production of Hedda Gabler was a must-see event. Written by Henrik Ibsen and adapted by Russell ’02, Hedda Gabler follows the story of Hedda (Grace Gardner ’13) as she struggles to find the slightest bit of control in her new life as the wife of George Tesman (Issa Polstein ’15). The plot’s subtle humor and engaging themes of control and betrayal kept audience members on the edge of their seats.
Visually, the show was stunning. Visiting Guest Artist Martha Peñaranda turned the stage into a bourgeois living room, complete with a piano and fireplace. The play deals with Hedda’s compulsion to control the personal relationships of the people around her, and the intimate feel of the set drew the audience into her manipulative plans. If the set was well done, Peñaranda’s costume design was even more inspiring. The costumes, particularly those of the female characters, were colorful and gorgeous.
Ibsen created a disturbingly manipulative character in Hedda — a woman who is so desperate for an escape from her suffocating life that she is forced to find ways to control those around her. When that fails, she comes to the realization that the only way out is suicide. Russell appropriately staged the power of this moment by having Polstein carry his dead wife’s body onto center stage, with the bullet hole in her head visible to the entire audience.
Ibsen infused subtle humor into the play’s more serious moments, which often helped lighten the mood. Judge Brack (Will Quam ’14) in particular employed brilliant comedic timing during a scene in which he attempted to seduce Hedda.
That said, the humor was occasionally misplaced. Hedda Gabler is a serious play, and while comedy can improve a scene, there are certain moments that should not elicit laughter. One such moment was the ending scene, when Hedda’s dead body was carried onto the stage. The staging was perfect, and appropriately increased the tension of the scene, until Judge Brack exclaimed, “Who does that?” The audience laughed and, in effect, shattered the sober power of the moment.
The small cast showcased phenomenal talent. Olivia Strauss ’13 added a comedic element to the serious aspects of the play through her portrayal of Julia Tesman, George’s aunt. Her constant need to interfere in George’s marriage was hilarious, and she successfully conveyed her unconditional love for him, which created a nice contrast with the relationship between George and Hedda. Tesman created a blissfully oblivious character through his portrayal of George Tesman. Polstein earned my sympathies through his constant attempts to please Hedda, no matter how horribly she insulted him. Anna Yukevich ’16 portrayed Thea Elvstad with poise and talent. I was surprised to find she was only a first year. Thea’s desperation to escape from her married life was truly believable, and the intense devastation she felt when she found Eilert Lovborg, her true love, was spot-on. Kenny Fedorko ’13 was beautifully manipulative in his portrayal of Lovborg. Fedorko created a great contrast between his power over George Tesman, and the helplessness he felt in front of Hedda. The moment that he chose to kiss Thea, only minutes after admitting his love for Hedda, was palpably emotional