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Review: Stellar HEDDA GABLER at Antaeus Company: THE PISTOLS CAST

Hedda Gabler/by Henrik Ibsen/in a version by Andrew Upton/directed by Steven Robman/Antaeus Theatre, NoHo/through July 17

Pistols Cast

(photo credit: Facet Photography)

Ibsen's Hedda Gabler steeped in 19th century realism has never been presented with more visual splendor than in Antaeus' current production. It is their last in the NoHo space before moving to a new theatre in Glendale in the fall, but that is hardly the reason to see it. It is memorable all by itself for its splendid translation by Andrew Upton (2004) and glorious casts under the sterling direction of Steven Robman. Hedda (Nike Doukas in the Pistols ensemble) lives in a fantasyland, a world of her own creation, one which to her is remarkably perfect and beautiful. The opulent home of her husband professor Jorgen Tesman (JD Cullum) is to her, shabby and boring. She hates it as much as her marriage to him, so she envisions in her own mind how she wishes her life to be, controlling the destiny of those around her, viewing even death in terms of its beauty and ... freedom. Delusional or not, she refuses to give in to the will of others and thus remains the quintessential literary female tragic figure of the 19th century.

An interesting point is that director Robman has set this production of the play in the 1920s, not the 1890s when it was first performed in Germany. Mores not being as restrictive as in the Victorian period, it is curious to watch each character as they stumble and fail to take control over their own destiny. Humans fail in any era and that is the universality of the characters' behavior in Hedda Gabler.

At play in the story is not only Hedda's new but unhappy marriage to Tesman, but the resurgence of a former lover Ejlert Lovborg (Ned Mochel), who has just published a book and become Jorgen's chief competition for a professorship at the University in Oslo. Ejlert is now having an affair with another unhappily married woman, the very sensitive Thea Elvsted (Kwana Martinez), a former friend of Hedda, who trusts Hedda to keep her secrets about her feelings for Ejlert. However, Hedda steps in between Ejlert and Thea, attempting to prevent them from working on a sequel to Ejlert's book, referred to as his masterpiece. Is she thinking of her husband and trying to ruin his competition or does she just want to manipulate Ejlert and Thea out of her sense of empowerment? Ejlert, weakling that he is, gets drunk and misplaces the manuscript. Tesman finds it and gives it to Hedda who without his knowledge proceeds to burn it. Hedda follows her urges and commits dastardly crimes right up to the end. Another fascinating note about Hedda is that she consistently refers to herself as her fathers daughter - he was a general; she is not in her vocabulary her husband's wife.

The actors are nothing short of magnificent. There are three casts: The Pistols, The Generals, and the mixed cast Thursdays and Fridays, The Fjords. I am sticking by The Pistols. Nike Doukas as Hedda is miraculous. A steadfastly powerful performance! JD Cullum as Jorgen brings out the man's workaholic nature as well as his attention to detail, which Ejlert severely lacks. Mochel is wonderfully versatile and makes Eljert fun - and simultaneously sad. James Sutorius is Judge Brack, a seemingly straightforward man with a lot of lascivious intent lurking beneath, where Hedda is concerned. Another finely honed performance! Martinez as Thea is a gem, expressing quite the emotional ride. Lynn Milgrim is appropriately doting as Jorgen's Aunt Julle and Karianne Flaathen completes the astounding cast as the uber loyal maid Berte.

Kudos as well to scenic designer Se Hyun Oh and to costume designer Leah Piehl, who glorifies the 20s, particularly with Hedda's lovely dresses.

Don't miss this Hedda Gabler! It once again proves that Antaeus is at the top of the classical game in Los Angeles theatre. Bravo to a triple threat fantastic adaptation, director and casts.

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