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BWW Reviews: Theatreworks' THE WILD DUCK Proves Truth is Not Always Beauty

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In his director's notes for The Wild Duck, Murray Ross suggests Henrik Ibsen's play isn't produced often in America because of its bleak cynicism, resolving in a "stunning black hole" of despair. He's probably right. Tales of misery and woe are hard to stage-and even harder to market to audiences, as gay-in-every-sense director Roger de Bris noted in The Producers. I admit that I myself am not a big fan of stories that begin and end with relentless unhappiness. We all know life is nasty, brutish, and short; it's exhausting to have that message pounded into your brain for two hours unless there's some catharsis or a useful message to take from it.

So how do I recommend you see the Theatreworks production of The Wild Duck (as I believe you should), a play in which a struggling but relatively happy home is blown apart when a well-meaning friend of the husband discloses some unpleasant secrets about the wife's past? Perhaps as a cautionary tale, a reminder that even the noblest of ideals become destructive when not tempered by an understanding of the nuances and complexities of life.

For Gregers Werle (Jon Barker), the "claim of the ideal" doesn't leave much room for subtlety. This may be because his philosophy seems shaped less by reflection and more by rebellion against his wealthy industrialist father Hakon (Dan Mason, a stern portrait of upper-class privilege and self-justification). So when he learns his friend Hjalmar Ekdal (Philip Guerette) has been married to Gina (Lija Fisher), a former servant of the Werles-and Hakon's suspected mistress-he's aghast. How can Hjalmar be truly happy, with the stain of his wife's past unknown to him?

Yet the Ekdal family maintains a contented existence in spite of Gregers' indignation, and in spite of their challenges: Ekdal's father (Sol Chavez) is impoverished and disgraced, and his tender daughter Hedwig (a winsome Eleanor Sturt) is slowly losing her sight. Gina's level-headed maintenance keeps the house running, Old Ekdal amuses himself by playing huntsman in a loft room, and Hedwig cares for a wounded wild duck. But Gregers sees this peaceful existence as a poisonous illusion and is determined to break it-which he does, leaving the Ekdals to frantically pick up the pieces while Gregers argues the morality of his actions with Dr. Relling (Tom Paradise), who believes a little self-delusion is necessary for people to function.

The Theatreworks production starts off sluggish, with a noisy first scene that renders the opening dialogue unintelligible and Ibsen's heavy establishing of portents and symbols: thirteen guests at a dinner, the wounded canard of the title, and a loaded pistol (a prop which according to Ibsen's contemporary Chekhov must presage a violent turn). Guerette provides the most engaging moments in the first half, as he shows glimpses of the bitterness and self-importance that will help spell out Hjalmar's tragedy. The cast and the material come into their own once Gina's past is exposed and the Ekdals begin to fall apart, with Fisher's practical Gina and Sturt's fragile, loving Hedwig shining the brightest.

Ultimately, The Wild Duck leaves one not with a sense of hollowness, but of reflection. Do our aspirations genuinely improve the world around us, or are they just tools for our own aggrandizement? Ibsen's thoughts on the subject are worth considering.

The Theatreworks production of THE WILD DUCK runs now through May 12th, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Saturday matinees at 2pm, and Sundays at 4pm at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater in Colorado Springs. For tickets and information, contact the box office at 719-255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org.

PHOTO CREDIT: Isaiah Downing


Philip Guerette and Eleanor Strut


Eleanor Strut and Joh Barker


Sol Chavez, Lija Fisher, Eleanor Strut, and Philip Guerette


Clockwise from left: Eleanor Strut, Sol Chavez, Jon Barker, Lija Fisher, Philip Guerette


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From This Author Christi Esterle

Christi Esterle is a Colorado native, geek, and a theater fan ever since she saw her older cousin performing in a high school production of (read more...)