Local Arts Reviews

Christa Kimlicko Jones (l) and Lee Eddy in the dirigo group's <i>Hedda</i>
Christa Kimlicko Jones (l) and Lee Eddy in the dirigo group's Hedda

Hedda: Down With Love

Blue Theater, through June 28

Running Time: 1 hr, 40 min

Hedda Tesman, née Gabler, is not your ordinary control freak. A spoiled girl grown into a beautiful, unfulfilled, and vicious woman, Hedda has more than mere star appeal. She towers over a coterie of awed friends and family, whom she alternately attracts and repels, toying with them in an elaborate, cruel game of domination and submission. For Hedda, the control she seeks to exert over her husband, neighbors, family, ex-lover, and anyone else that dares come too near her flame (and flashing pistols) borders on madness, but it all distills to her wanting to be free, a nearly impossible desire. No matter her deviousness or eccentricities, Hedda is still a woman in a man's world with little substance to give her life the beauty she desperately seeks; her only power is to effect wretched change.

Often this is a recipe for gooey melodrama, the sort that has historically dripped from productions of Henrik Ibsen's classic, where Hedda is possessed by her animal passion to be her own woman yet suffers as a new bride in a corseted world with expectations (that the new bride is expecting, for one). In this dirigo group production, all that is smashed quite to pieces, sometimes brilliantly. As reimagined by Laura Somers, the whole affair is twisted with a perverse cinematic flair: Imagine a deviant Doris Day/Rock Hudson flick with some wacky Jerry Lewis tossed in. Director Somers spares no opportunity to turn silver-screen excess into stage gold. The thing has a late-1950s zip: party dresses and sweater vests, manhattans and vodka martinis, characters who breeze in and out, Ray-Bans on a drifting black-clad figure from the past. Judson Jones' spare set captures the feel of opening credits (or are those neat, circular blood spatters?). Then there are the songs -- lip-synched, emblematic numbers that offer a hint of subtext, while showing off the extravagance (and silliness) of this restrictive world.

Somers goes too far with some emblematic choices, however. A lot of extraneous motion busies the stage. The first two-thirds of the production seem endless, with bits that go on too long. Hedda rearranges the furniture (based on a line we'll hear not much later) to illuminate her obsessiveness, and no matter the engaging intensity of actress Christa Kimlicko Jones, the bit drags. Similarly, the expository dialogue between Aunt Julie and servant Berta (a pseudo-Tuna turn with Garry Peters and Russ Roten in drag) drags and drags, and a badminton game highlighting the relationship between Hedda and neighbor/rival Thea Elvsted -- Rhea Hines in a fine, multifaceted performance -- goes on and on. Greg Gondek's Jerry Lewis-like performance as geek husband George Tesman hasn't any depth at all, despite the actor's commitment to his practically maniacal blocking. The sheer physicality of the acting -- it never seems to stop in the early going -- distracts from the story as much as it illuminates the under-the-surface tensions. All these choices are strong ones, they just continue past the point of effectiveness.

Of her myriad choices, however, Somers' coup de grâce is to make Hedda's ex-lover -- brooding, self-destructive poet Eilert Lovborg -- a woman. This absolutely and brilliantly ratchets the tensions of Ibsen's play to a whole new level. Forbidden sexuality and desire mix with voyeuristic fascination and a community's need to harbor deep, dark secrets. The result is an excellent, combustible cocktail. As Lovborg, Lee Eddy provides a haunting, and haunted, character to stalk, and be stalked by, Kimlicko Jones' manipulative Hedda. Once Eddy's Lovborg is fully enmeshed in the plot, the whole show takes off and becomes a much more solid endeavor. The lecherous Judge Brack is given a nuanced interpretation by Peters, combining raw wickedness with subtlety. And seated above all, often literally, is Kimlicko Jones, whose portrayal of the suave and sophisticated society woman accelerating to pieces is an elegant and forceful bit of acting. By the play's disturbing finale, Hedda's cage has finally, magically, disastrously opened, only to reveal an even smaller cage. That blistering realization lands this tight production perfectly.

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Hedda, Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen, dirigo group, Laura Somers, Judson Jones, Christa Kimlicko-Jones, Garry Peters, Russ Roten, Rhea Hines, Greg Gondek, Lee Eddy

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