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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Hedda Gabler

Also see Susan's review of U.S.A.

Hedda Gabler
Julie-Ann Elliott and Christopher Lane
The production of Hedda Gabler now at the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Washington is well reasoned and intelligent, if rather less passionate than one might like. While Julie-Ann Elliott gives a solid performance in the title role, she does not dazzle and fascinate as the character demands; she comes across as rather stolid, playing the role on only one or two levels instead of revealing the multiplicity of identities Hedda needs to convey.

Olney is staging Henrik Ibsen's 1890 play as part of an observance of this year's centennial of Ibsen's death. A production of An Enemy of the People will follow in July.

While Ibsen is known for his incisive portraits of women, Hedda is a difficult person for an audience to accept: spoiled, fond of luxury, and thwarted by her own powerlessness. If she is to be palatable, she should have surface charm, a barbed sense of humor, or some other quality that makes her seem more than a self-absorbed woman trapped by her need for respectability and the rules of Victorian life.

Hedda was once the center of a circle of admirers, but the only one who offered marriage was the rather stodgy scholar George Tesman (Christopher Lane). She accepted his proposal with an eye to the future she wasn't getting any younger, and Tesman, she believed, would become a renowned intellectual, ensuring her a prominent place in society but now she finds herself in an over-decorated home, forced to deal with the domestic (and possibly maternal) responsibilities she has always shunned.

Lane, in contrast, finds a lot of humor in the intelligent but clueless Tesman: rhapsodizing over the joys of obscure scholarship (Hedda calls him, scornfully, a "specialist"); missing the broad hints dropped by his doting aunt (Anne Stone); and noisily tripping over his feet on his way in and out of rooms. Lane has been away from acting for two years, and returns with added depth and skill in character roles.

Unfortunately, his performance is not well balanced by that of Jeffries Thaiss as Eilert Løvborg, a fellow scholar attempting to defeat his self-destructive tendencies which Hedda has always considered somehow nobler than the behavior of people who follow society's rules. Løvborg must be magnetic, a person who captivates those around him even as he slips into his downward spiral of despair. Thaiss, in contrast, demonstrates the character's spiritual numbness without showing the fervor that preceded it: the ashes without the fire.

The other noteworthy performance is Michael Howell as Judge Brack. He manages to present a superficial sincerity that makes the character's inner corruption more of a surprise.

James Kronzer has designed an elegant, intentionally claustrophobic sitting room in the confines of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, although the use of newspapers as wallpaper may be better suited to An Enemy of the People, which will use the same basic set with different furnishings. Daniel MacLean Wagner's lighting design, Howard Vincent Kurtz's costumes, and Jarett Pisani's sound design help to draw the viewer into the scene.

Olney Theatre Center
Hedda Gabler June 21st July 23rd
By Henrik Ibsen
Mrs. Elvsted: Maia DeSanti
Hedda (Gabler) Tesman: Julie-Ann Elliott
Berta: Cornelia Hart
Judge Brack: Michael Howell
George Tesman: Christopher Lane
Miss Julianna Tesman: Anne Stone
Eilert Løvborg: Jeffries Thaiss
Directed by Halo Wines
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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