'Hedda' hits home

By Suzanne Weiss
Pioneer Press Theater Critic

Henrik Ibsen's 100-year-old masterpiece, "Hedda Gabler," has much to say to contemporary audiences. The story of one woman's struggle to achieve independence within a system geared to keeping females in their genteel place, has stood the test of time.

The lesson here, if there is one, is "You've come a long way, baby, but baby, you've still got a long way to go."

The beautiful and high strung daughter of a respected general, Hedda has make a "suitable" marriage to a dull and rather childish scholar, in hopes of making her place "in society." Boredom and sacrifice of the passionate existence she craves is the price she has had to pay.

Like Nora, heroine of the great Norwegian playwright's "A Doll's House," Hedda is caught between her own desires and society's expectations.

Unlike Nora, Hedda could be considered as evil, the violent alternatives she chooses in breaking out of her gilded prison unacceptable, even by contemporary standards.

Others will look more kindly, sensing the deep frustration that drives her.

Either way, it is an interesting and arresting piece of theater and Touchstone in Lake Forest is giving it a worthy showcase.

If the show has the look and feel of Goodman Theater, it may be because many of those associated with it are alumni of the Goodman School: director Ina Marlowe, set and lighting designer Kevin Show, costumer Julie Nagel and at least three of the principals. The translator, associate director, stage manager and another actor all have worked at the downtown Chicago venue.

It all adds up to class and polish, with special applause due to Snow, for his elegant Scandinavian townhouse and Nagel for costumes to match.

All five of the leads in this play are interesting, fully realized characters and the excellent cast does them justice.

Hedda is one of the great female roles and Adrianne Cury has both the power and bearing for the part. Her reading is heavy on Hedda's neurotic aspects, short on sympathy. It is a fine, if somewhat one-sided, portrayal.

Jenifer Tyler, gentle and blond where Cury is dark and forceful, provides a lovely contrast as Thea, the desperate young wife of an older, uncaring official, madly in love with the man Hedda has marked for herself.

Paul Dillon is that man — Eilert Lovborg, a wild-eyed genius with a bent for self destruction. David Kropp is his opposite, Tasman, the immature, rather foolish husband Hedda has chosen to her almost-instant regret.

They both are good but most powerful among the men is Touchstone stalwart N. Marion Polus. His Judge Brack, icily suave and scheming, is the male equivalent of Hedda, herself, and the only one who gains power over her.

I have yet to see a mediocre performance from this actor who, to our good fortune, is in just about everything Touchstone does.

The long first act has its moments of tedium, as Ibsen sets his complicated scene but there are several built-in mini-climaxes that will make you sit up in your seat (each comes at the end of one of the original four acts).

The second act sweeps along with increasing momentum, moving inexorably toward the tragic conclusion.

Nowadays we don't address our friends as "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Judge." Nor do we, hopefully, threaten them with Daddy's old pistol.

Nevertheless, if moments in "Hedda Gabler" seem curiously familiar, it may be that the shoe still fits, no matter how much the foot has grown.

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