Reviewed by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

I was so emotionally affected. Shut down cold. And at first, I couldn’t say why. The experience of Hedda Gabler, maybe for the first time ever, was THAT startling.

Antaeus Theatre Company’s Hedda Gabler opened last week very quietly, and ended quite literally with a bang. A still fairly new adaptation by Australian playwright Andrew Upton which premiered in 2004 at the Sydney Theatre Company, has been set in the early 1920’s instead of its original time period of the 1890’s and under the careful guidance of director Steven Robman, has been brought to life by the notably excellent performances of Anataeus’ Generals cast (Jaimi Page, Adrian LaTourelle, Ann Noble, Tony Amendola, Daniel Blinkoff, Amelia White and Elizabeth Dennehey).

It is simply not to be missed.

Stepping far away from mere cerebral intrigue, as has been on offer with much theater as of late, Antaeus’ Hedda is actually moving, indeed perception shifting, and distinctively so, which is the biggest surprise of all.

Classic productions of Hedda Gabler have often tended towards a stylistically sad experience mucking through Ibsen’s taut dialog and agonizingly slow pace – Hedda is so remote.  Not here though.

There is an edge-of-the-seat factor to this production.  Actress Jaimi Page plays Hedda characteristically complicated yet so incredibly clear, we begin to understand why Hedda is such the center of everyone else’s existence who seem to almost obligatorily revolve around her, whether they like it or not. In fact, this refreshing and extraordinarily understandable update finally focuses a modern audience right into the behavior of a beautiful but unknowable Hedda, newly married, trapped in a world she cannot bear and longing to break free.

Described by Joseph Wood Krutch an American writer, critic, and naturalist, Gabler is neither insane nor logical.  Ibsen himself whose interest (then) in the science of mental illness has certainly written Gabler as a strange and oppressed being, although never quite explains her.  In the current interpretation however it is American academic Bernard Jay Paris’ (Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature) explanation that seems to fit best, that all of Gabler’s actions stem from her ‘need for freedom [which is] as compensatory as her craving for power… her desire to shape a man’s destiny.’

It may be the finality of Gabler’s extremely abrupt act of suicide, after the destruction of her former lover, that brings the point home.  Hedda’s acts may ultimately be monstrous, but she is not necessarily abnormal.  This one willful decision is better than being trapped in ‘someone else’s life’.

This Hedda Gabler is not without its kinks. Although the language has been updated there are occasional words and phrases that don’t seem to fit in the mostly naturalistic delivery.  But the cast marvelously overcomes any dialog imperfections while also subtly apportioning out a highly nuanced piece.

Antaeus’ Hedda Gabler makes perfect sense.

Written by Henrik Ibsen in a version by Andrew Upton
Directed by Steven Robman
Starring Tony Amendola, Daniel Blinkoff, Mimi Cozzens, JD Cullum, Elizabeth Dennehy, Nike Doukas, Karianne Flaathen, Adrian LaTourelle, Kwana Martinez, Lynn Milgrim, Ned Mochel, Ann Noble, Jaimi Paige, James Sutorius

Photo (above) by Karianne Flaathen: Jaimi Paige and Tony Amendola

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