Adapter Nigel O’Hearn’s indefinite article marks a ‘Hedda’ that’s notably indistinct.
In adapting Ibsen’s world-beating realist classic, Hedda Gabler, writer Nigel O’Hearn goes small. He has cut the play down and simplified the action to a lean 100-or-so minutes—all the better for audiences to focus in on the heroine’s complex psychology. However, it would seem that a great deal of that psychology has also been simplified or lost entirely—at least that appears to be the case with director Max Truax’s production here, his first as Red Tape Theatre’s artistic director.
For the non-diehards out there, a brief summary: Hedda Gabler (Aayisha Humphrey) has just returned from her honeymoon with George Tessman (Johnard Washington), a college professor for whom the term “nice guy” is an accurate description as both a compliment and an insult. Hedda is outrageously, fantastically bored with her life (not to mention her husband), and practically leaps at the chance to sow chaos when her former lover, and her husband’s academic rival, Eilert Lovborg (Austin D. Oie) returns to the scene, touting the manuscript of a book that Tessman thinks could change their field entirely.
The beauty of Hedda is her contradictions. She’s one of the original antiheroes—both sympathetic protagonist and utter monster—motivated by competing, at-times unreasonable desires that most people would instantly recognize in themselves. And while Truax’s expressionistic directing style (which he has employed very effectively elsewhere) attempts to unlock these inner moments of the subconscious, it more often than not fails to. The effect is of a naturalistic play with occasional expressionistic flourishes tacked onto it. Perhaps a fuller translation would be able to counter this fault, but O’Hearn’s stripped down script is ill-equipped.
Additionally, the alley-style staging of the play’s more realistic scenes more often than not fails to connect the actor’s movements to the character’s psychological underpinnings. In the end, it’s just bodies moving through space. Add wildly varying acting styles from the production’s various cast members and you have a play as disjointed as the title character herself. If this is intentional, that’s all well and good. It is not successful.
Red Tape Theatre at Pride Arts Center. By Henrik Ibsen. Adapted by Nigel O’Hearn. Directed by Max Truax. With Aayisha Humphrey, Johnard Washington, Michael Kingston, Austin Oie, Barbara Button, Sarah Grant. Running time: 1 hr, 40 mins; no intermission.