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Free Play’s ‘Gabler’ gives Brandeis a ‘Hedda’-ache

By Candice Bautista

Section: Arts, Top Stories

April 5, 2012

The play “Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen was put on last weekend by Free Play in the Mandel atrium. The show was put on to almost universal derision due to incredibly poor emoting, misinterpretations of the play itself and inconsistent acting. This may or may not be due to poor casting—it was difficult to tell whether the blame should be given to director Christopher Knight ’14 or to the actors themselves. I feel obliged to blame the actors though. It almost seems that this was the show for the people who weren’t cast in the other Free Play shows.

The play featured recently married Hedda (Lisa Feierstein ’15), who felt trapped and bored in her new life as a married woman. The show is essentially about Hedda’s frustration with her life and the various ways she tries to find beauty and excitement. In the play, it is also clear that she never really loved her husband, George Tesman (Jørgen Tesman in the original, played by Josh Kelly ’14 at Brandeis) and may have even gotten married out of sheer boredom. Tesman’s old rival Eilert (Matt Garber ’12), a former alcoholic, comes into their lives boasting a recently published work, becoming increasingly worried about the professorship that he was expecting. In addition to this, Gabler appears to have feelings for Eilert.

Soon after, it is realized that Eilert has no desire to obtain the professorship and continues working on the sequel with Mrs. Elvsted (Devan Johnson ’13) to create the sequel to his work. Gabler soon becomes jealous and forces Eilert to get drunk and go to a party. As a result of his drunkenness, he forgets the manuscript of his “masterpiece,” which Gabler later burns for Tesman’s job security. Afterward, she tells Eilert to kill himself, which results in a series of events that becomes a scandal and ends with Gabler killing herself.

From the basic idea of Gabler’s boredom sprouts a series of conflicts and confrontations based on the relationships in the play, and conveys jealousy, hopelessness and suicidal tendencies in two and a half hours.

The first problem was a practical one; although the stage they built was impressive and the space worked well as Tesman’s villa, they did not have enough seats for the audience of 50, leaving half of the audience on the floor. Those sitting on the floor acquired an intimate understanding of all of the actors’ knees.

The second problem was the acting and direction of the play. Kelly, for example, was unable to deliver his lines with emotion and ended many words with a rising intonation. Statements he didn’t turn into questions, he punctuated with numerous um’s and pauses. None of this convinced the audience of his character.

The remainder of the actors appeared merely to misinterpret the words instead of acting them out. The play really hinges on Hedda’s ability to have the audience sympathize with her actions, or at least understand why she was doing them. Because Feierstein was inconsistent with her acting, however, we were never able to figure out any underlying motivation, other than the superficial “I’m so bored.”

With the two main characters acting poorly, much of the play was adrift. Much of the action in the show resides in the characters’ ability to internalize, and none of that was apparent in the show. It was difficult to determine whether the actors themselves were bad or if the misinterpretation of the show was what kept them from succeeding. Additionally, the energy of the show overall was low, which intensified Hedda’s boredom, but also the audience’s boredom. Judge Brack (Zev Kupfer ’15) as well as Eilert were the only people with any enthusiasm for their roles at all.

A blatant error from the director was that many of the lines were stretched to be humorous instead of portraying the heartfelt meaning of the original piece. It is disappointing that such a great show was put on this poorly.

As usual, Free Play put on a show with minimal production values, using floodlights in lieu of standard stage lights. I have always admired Free Play’s dedication to put on real theater, with a minimum of fluff. In this case, however, more lights and tech could have been used to distract from the acting even slightly.

All in all, “Hedda Gabler” was well-intentioned, and Ibsen is always difficult to perform because it focuses on interpersonal relationships and the secret desires of the characters. There are many layers to each character’s true feelings and Free Play oversimplified them, lacking critical thought.

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