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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Rarely Rousing and Plain Peculiar Hedda Gabler
at Intiman Theatre

Also see David's review of Teatro ZinZanni's Gangsters of Love

Hedda Gabler
Marya Sea Kaminski
This summer the sadly dormant Intiman Theatre, closed since last spring, is hoping to revive and reinvent itself with a summer theatre festival featuring a rep company in four wildly different plays. Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, directed by the company's new artistic director Andrew Russell, is a respectable but unexciting and ploddingly paced production, and not the kind of shot in the arm the festival as a whole needs to instigate a full-on return to form of this once nationally prominent, Tony award winning institution.

This was my first exposure to Hedda Gabler, either on the stage or the page, so director Russell's placing this late 1800s tragic tale in an indeterminate time period, and using non-traditional casting (of the actors on the stage only a couple looked vaguely Nordic to me) were not stumbling blocks for me, as the tale of a beautiful spoiled woman wreaking havoc among her husband, friends and former lovers unfolds. What did strike me, though, was how blind Hedda's circle seemed to be to her obvious manipulations, and how her cruelty toward virtually everyone of them is scarcely remarked upon, save the equally crafty Judge. The play's ultimate tragic twists come as no surprise, as a sense of doom and foreboding is set at the top, enforced by an edgy, offsetting background music score.

Marya Sea Kaminski, one of the more striking actresses on the Seattle theatre scene, certainly commands the stage as the witchy title vixen, even though her full throttle performance is at times arch and melodramatic, but certainly never dull. Such is not the case with two of her principal co-stars, Ryan Francis as Hedda's husband Jorgen, and Fawn Ledesma as her former schoolmate Thea. Francis' good guy Tesman is earnest to the point of distraction, while Ledesma's Thea is simpering, whiny and annoying. Faring a bit better is Michael Place's anguished and ultimately self-destructive Lovborg, who at least shows some fire.

Faring far better are the stalwart and always riveting Timothy McCuen Piggee as the subtly scheming Judge Brack, and the very intriguing Shellie Shulkin as Tesman's slightly balmy Aunt Julian. There are also some interesting nuances and undercurrents in the performance of Hannah Victoria Franklin as housemaid Berte. Still, director Russell's plodding pacing of the action and seeming endorsement of Kaminski's over-the-top aspects of her performance, not to mention a modern dance element inserted by choreographer Oliver Wevers that seems to climax the play in a heretofore absent theatre of the absurd style, make for an ultimately unsatisfying theatre experience.

Jennifer Zeyl's sparsely furnished mansion set with its netting walls, L.B Morse's lighting design highlighted by the occasional ominous shadows of the cast, and the eclectic costumes of Erik Andor are all bold choices, which came to naught in the service of a sadly off-kilter production.

Hedda Gabler at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St. in Seattle Center runs through August 25, 2012. For information and ticketing go to www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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