Hedda Gabler

By Carlson, Marvin | Ibsen News and Comment, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Hedda Gabler


Carlson, Marvin, Ibsen News and Comment


A Necessary Angel production in association with Canadian Stage Toronto, Berkeley Street Theatre, January 12-February 7, 2016

The 2016 production ofHedda Gabler in Toronto gained attention for a couple of reasons. Its hosting institution, Canadian Stage, is one of Canada's largest and most important not-for-profit theatres, dedicated to new Canadian plays, translated work, and a range of non-theatrical offerings. Last year, one of Canada's leading experimental companies, Necessary Angel, an important part of the Toronto theatre scene since 1978, but without a permanent home, began a three-year residency at Canadian Stage, of which this Hedda Gabler is a part. It was staged at the Berkeley Street complex, the smallest of Canadian Stage's three venues, a former gas-pumping station converted into quite an elegant space. A second reason for the importance of the production was its Hedda. The part has always been in significant measure a vehicle play for leading actresses, and this production is no exception. Cara Ricketts is a star of stage, television, and film in Canada. She has been a leading actress at the Stratford Festival for the past four years, her work there culminating last year in her appearance in the title role in Cymbeline, widely considered the outstanding production of the season.

The theatre at which Hedda Gabler was presented, the larger of the two houses at the Berkeley Street complex, is quite intimate, with perhaps one-third of its seats on a small balcony. The production took place largely on a kind of large forestage extending the width of the house. The stage design was by Teresa Przybylski, who has designed for most of the leading theatre and opera companies in Canada. The setting was for the most part visible when the audience entered, and was a rather stark one. It was a simple rectangular box, painted a uniform dark red, with three door-shaped openings in the back wall, but no doors, no architectural details, nothing on the walls, not even the famous portrait of the General. The only scenic detail on the wall was a thin gauze curtain on the opening to the left, which provided a modest but not very convincing way for Berta to open the room to air and sunlight early in the play and for Hedda to request its closing when she appears. Within the room were ten or so items of furniture: tables, chairs, and a lamp, every one of them swathed in a white protective cloth. I felt as if I were coming not into the opening of Hedda Gabler, but the end of The Cherry Orchard.

This closedup effect became even odder as the play opened, unconventionally, with Judge Brack (played by the well-known Canadian actor, Steve Cumyn), coming down the center aisle in a spotlight, with the stage darkened, mounting the stage and giving the audience a warm smile (he was one of the most genial Bracks I have ever seen), then opening his arms as the stage lights went up, as if to proudly show us the attractive interiors which he had arranged for the new couple (and perhaps also to suggest, not incorrectly, that he was going to serve as a kind of stage manager of the subsequent action). It was an effective opening but made the continued hiding of the furniture even more odd. Surely he would have arranged for the house to be made ready for its new occupants before they arrived. Instead, Berta has to scurry about the opening scene, the day after the arrival, hastily removing the coverings.

There are other odd moments of staging. I was willing to accept the rather absent-minded Tesman (Frank CoxO'Connell) casually tossing the hat of his Aunt Julia (Kate Hennig) onto a chair, but when he later sat on the chair himself, potentially damaging the hat (he did not), I found this troubling. Even more problematic was the use of the door to the back garden with its thin curtain. It remained open to the outside, day and night, even when characters complain about the cold and add fuel to the small stove (which is located just a few feet downstage of the open door. …

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