New adaptation of Ibsen's 'Hedda Gabler' sizzles at Undermain Theatre
Updated: Jun 10
By Cristee Cook
“The great tragedy of life is that so many people have nothing to do but yearn for happiness without ever being able to find it.” – Henrik Ibsen
Thus is the predicament in Hedda Gabler, the ground-breaking play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In a virtual production, adapted and directed by Blake Hackler, Dallas’ Undermain Theatre has presented a powerful, intimate story. Ibsen’s 1891 play is about the title character, Hedda, who is trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want. Secrets, lies, and the conventional expectations of society push her to a breaking point.
The production immediately draws you in to Ibsen’s world of exceptional Realism thanks to the designers. Set Designer Robert Winn has created the Tesman estate with dimensional layers and period elements that flawlessly welcome you into the story. The furnishings are lush, and the backdrop feels both like a gorgeous country view and a fine painting. Small details remind you that the theatre space is still part of the experience, bringing the tangible elements of theatrical presentation into the filmed environment.
Amanda Capshaw’s costume design is period-perfect, all the way down to color palette and fabric choices. Another benefit of the virtual platform is the ability to see layers of detail, and Capshaw left no stone unturned. The same is true for Cindy Ernst-Godinez, whose Property Design and Scenic Assistant work adds the opulence Aunt Julie so craves. The design team has created a world that would impress the pickiest.
Something I’ve always admired about Ibsen’s work is that from the outset of the story, there is a foreboding threat. When the work is well executed, the threat is palpable and intimate. For me, this is where this production excels. Hackler’s adaptation of the play is crisp. He’s taken the tension Ibsen perfected and cranked it up. The search for happiness is in itself the illusion. Hackler’s direction and adaptation of the play gets to the meat of the story, and I found it suspenseful and energetic.
As Hedda Gabler, Olivia de Guzman embodies the role in all-the-right-ways, as a woman who is deeply unfulfilled with no solution in sight. The tension heightens to an implosion and de Guzman balances the tight rope expertly.
The cast is a strong ensemble, but Felipe Carassco as Eilert Lovborg leads as the self-destructive writer. Carassco gives Lovborg intensity, and an unapologetic humanity that captures Ibsen’s brilliant characterizations. Adrian Churchill as Judge Brack heightens the dramatic tension further with his sweet-smiling, lustful duplicity. Just like de Guzman as Hedda, Churchill hits the mark in all-the-right-ways.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted and Directed by Black Hackler is streaming now through June 13, 2021. Produced by Undermain Theatre Artistic Director Bruce DuBose.
Tickets are available now through Undermain Theatre.