Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hedda Gabler"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by A. S. Waterman


HEDDA GABLER:

Rhode Island's 2nd Story Puts a Fresh Face on a Theater Classic

Reviewed by A.S. Waterman

George........Rendueles Villalba
Hedda........Rae Mancini
Aunt Julia........Katherine Sheridan
Thea........Maureen Bennett
Judge Brack........Mike Zola
Lovborg........Joe Ouellette
Berta........Peggy Hoagland

Written by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Ed Shea

Rhode Island's 2nd Story Theatre had planned to present A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE as its fourth offering of the season but suddenly replaced it with HEDDA GABLER. In both cases, many people wondered what could be done to lend some new flavor to what can be an over-produced and rather depressing play. Director Ed Shea succeeds admirably in doing that with this latest HEDDA.

Since its first appearance in 1890, Henrik Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER has chronicled the misery, anger and eventual suicide of a woman trapped in a hopeless situation. We know from the beginning what the outcome will be, yet a good production will nonetheless captivate us in the journey. This one does, largely with a surprising combination of elements. First, it eliminates the episodic nature of the play as written, performing it with no intermissions and rapidly escalating the pace. Second, it adds to Ibsen's touches of dark humor with quite a few of its own, several of them delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Those of us who sweated through the classics in school will have to smother the urge to laugh out loud as Rae Mancini (in the title role) strikes every classic head-over-shoulder Hedda Gabler book-cover pose, from every angle, again and again, as well as when she hums a melody from the Peer Gynt Suite. She also repeatedly catches us off guard with some unscripted one-liners delivered with a lively spontaneity.

Indeed, Mancini's Hedda is superb, as she eschews the staid Victorian mannerisms in favor of a portrayal that is distinctly modern. In her cocky tilt of the head, her cruel machinations and her unbridled sarcasm, we recognize her as many people we have known in our lives. But is she the villain or the victim? The other characters, especially her nerdy husband George (Rendueles Villalba) and shlep-ex-lover Lovborg (Joe Ouellette), surround Hedda with such an effective prison wall of tedium that we can't help but identify with her in a resounding "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God."

Again, 2nd Story takes advantage of its minimalist tradition to present only vital elements, reducing the set to a mantel, a portrait of Hedda's father, and especially a glowing antique stove that almost leers at us in a frightening portent of the play's most famous line. The show is performed in the round. Although every seat affords a good view of the stage, occasionally a key facial expression or gesture is hidden from some audience members. However, the fact that one notices this, and wonders about what it might have been, indicates that the cast and director have done an excellent job.

A succession of elaborate costumes (changed with amazing speed), some wonderful pastries at the concession counter, and a very welcoming and friendly staff round out the event, making for a very rewarding theatrical experience.

HEDDA GABLER runs through April 24. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15.

"Hedda Gabler" (25 March - 24 April)
SECOND STORY THEATRE
28 Market Street, WARREN, RI
1 (401) 247-4200

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