Hedda Gabbler opens with electrifying exploration of freedom and gender

By Ghada Emish ’19

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Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is considered one of the most prolific female characters in modern drama. On the outside, Hedda is sharp, poised and biting, yet on the inside, she is stubborn, complex and incredibly bored. Catherine Daigle ’17 brings incredible life and nuance to the character in the Hamilton Theatre Department’s Fall Mainstage, Hedda Gabler. Her hard work and dedication to the role is apparent to anyone who attends the production, even as she, at only 21, plays a character considered to be the height of many actors’ careers. 

Daigle brilliantly highlights Hedda’s desire to control her surroundings, to the point where she exasperates and frightens the audience. Hedda is lost in a (from her perspective) loveless marriage, drained by boredom and ennui about life around her, and consistently clings to her longing to control human life. The way she turns her head in a stern, almost robotic manner repeatedly throughout the play reveals the tension she feels in her own home. She feels trapped and on-display, constantly concerned about what others would think about her. Her passion for drama battles with her aversion to creating a scandal. Hedda’s gaze informs the audience of her internal reaction to what she hears, requiring a lot of self-discipline in consistently emitting powerful eye movements— which Daigle performs beautifully. 

Director Craig Latrell, professor of theatre, has chosen to set the 1891 Norwegian play in 1973 Connecticut. This was a year marked by a great cultural shift in the United States, one that featured the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and an emphasis on second-wave feminism. This directing choice has resulted in dazzling and immersive costume and set design, designed by Amy Petta and Sara Walsh, visiting assistant professor of theatre, respectively. Hedda’s dress in the final scene is perfect for her personality, for it articulates her beauty, refined taste in dressing and rather dark complexity. Her home is intricately furnished, but its white walls symbolize Hedda’s entrapment. In fact, every character except Hedda comes and goes from the home throughout the show, as she continually remains inside her home, longing for freedom. 

Ryan Cassidy ’17 plays her recently betrothed, up-and-coming scholar George Tesman. Cassidy brings life and energy to the role; his spirited, hunched gait and wire-framed glasses highlight Tesman’s inherent nerdy side. However, his handling of the role also clearly reveals the irreconcilable difference in character between Tesman and Hedda. By far his most impressive scene is when Tesman’s calm demeanor breaks and he directs passionate rage at Hedda for her inconsiderate, cold and downright cruel actions. 

Kelsey Crane ’17 plays Thea Elvsted, a nervous, neurotic woman, who has come to seek the help of Hedda and George. She also brings very obvious discipline and experience to her role, and audiences never doubt for a second Crane’s inherent and practiced skill. Throughout the play, her character by far has the most raw energy and excitement. Thea is captivated by the genius of Everett Lovborg, played by Tommy Bowden ’18, whom she has followed into town and would do anything to impress. 

These characters offer significant competition to Hedda and George, who are both envious of different aspects of Thea and Everett’s lives. Bowden succeeds in portraying Lovborg as an enchanting, passionate writer, instilled with an explosive, dangerous power. Bowden’s vocal tone changes abruptly to reveal the conflicting emotions inside Lovborg and he skillfully displays the tormented nature of his character in an emotional collapse that is very deeply and effectively uttered into a dramatic physical and vocal performance. 

Judge Brack, played by the inspiringly talented Collin Purcell ’17, is perhaps the most threatening character in the play. He keeps his perversions and desires hidden until he finds the opportune moment to strike, and Purcell has completely mastered the subtleties required of the brash, selfish character. It’s clear not only that Purcell is a skilled actor, but that he has put dedicated time and effort into the role, hard work that has paid off beautifully. 

Bridget Lavin ’18 plays Aunt Julie, Tesman’s nosy, meddlesome aunt, who is skeptical of Hedda’s predilection for luxurious appearances. Lavin wittingly produces subtle sounds and facial expressions that elicit giggles from the audience. She moves on the stage in the manner of an elegant and conventional lady. Aunt Julie’s clinging to tradition further helps the audience realize the incongruity between Hedda and Tesman. 

Finally, the entire show is livened by Bertie, played by Stephanie Kall ’19, the Tesmans’ maid. She has worked for Aunt Julie her entire life, and is intimidated about beginning to work for Hedda instead. Bertie’s expert Boston accent, nervous energy and brightly-colored purple pants bring light and humor to the production. 

The acting in Hedda Gabler is invigorating, thrilling audiences as they watch these selfish, twisted characters in their eloquent exploration of the facts of life. The beauty of going to the theatre is that, in the course of about two hours, a play can make the audience experience a great intensity of emotions that they normally would not experience over an average month of their daily lives. 

Hedda Gabler opened this past weekend at Hamilton, on Nov. 3, and is stage managed by Eliza Burwell ’17, with video design by Jeff Larson, visiting assistant professor of theatre. It will continue performances this weekend on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. 

Additionally, the Saturday matinee will feature an understudy cast of Angelique Archer ’20, Will Benthem de Grave ’20, Will Kaback ’20, Andy Letai ’19, Jojo Rinehart-Jones ’20 and Sarah Zeiberg ’18, which was directed by Matt Reinemann ’17 and stage managed by Noelani Stevenson ’19. Tickets are available online or in person at the Romano Theatre box office. 

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