BWW Reviews: Quotidian Theatre Company Puts a Compelling Time-Warped Twist on HEDDA GABLER
Oppression, isolation, and desperation are universal themes, stretching across continents and generations to color the human experience; in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler these themes come vividly to life. At Quotidian Theatre Company in Bethesda, director and adapter Michael Avolio plucks Ibsen's drama from 1890's Oslo and drops it into 1963 Georgetown. Often moving, if occasionally unclear, the concept creates powerful connections between two distinctive settings and adds new layers to a classic play.
Hedda Gabler revolves around the title character, a newly married upper-class woman overwhelmed with boredom and regret. The morning after she and her husband George Tesman return from a disappointing honeymoon, they are visited by George's Aunt Julia, his ex-girlfriend (and Hedda's classmate) Thea Elvsted, and the devious Judge Brack, each of whom comes with their own motivations. Desperate to control something outside of herself, Hedda manipulates those around her to get closer to the troubled Elliott Lovburg-her former flame, George's academic nemesis, and the man Thea loves. Using Lovburg's alcoholism against him, Hedda ultimately gets what she wants-with devastating consequences.
In Quotidian Theatre Company's production, each member of the small cast pulled their weight to develop an ensemble of believable characters. As Hedda Gabler, Katie Culligan made an immediate impression and was constantly present as her character, despite being onstage for almost the entire performance. Her interpretation was definitive and fascinating, creating a cruel and rarely sympathetic anti-hero who nonetheless held the audience's rapt attention. As her foil Thea Elvsted, Sarah Ferris blended innocence and determination, performing especially well in her climactic confrontation scene with Lovburg. As Berta, Kecia Campbell was another standout, using her limited stage time to form an extremely human character.
A room with multiple entrances and surprising depth filled the stage, suggesting the presence of an entire house through two walls. The single set found strength in its vintage details, functioning perfectly in the intimate theater. From the distinctively patterned pillows to the copies of Life Magazine on the coffee table, the living room set designed by Michael Avolio and Jack Sbarbori brought authenticity to the setting. Down to the characters' shoes and hats, Stephanie Mumford's costumes did the same.
The production was most competent in its extremes. Judge Brack (Francisco Reinoso) making quiet threats and Berta tearing up over a pair of slippers were contrasted with Lovburg (Christian Sullivan)'s explosive despair and Hedda dancing wildly to 60's hits, delightfully unhinged, at the end of the first act. Although each actor showed his or her talent in these emotional moments, the calmer dialogues often lacked a cohesive flow. This occasional faltering, which can likely be attributed to the production's recent opening, was sometimes distracting but generally obscured by the performance's overall achievement. Similarly, some of the staging made little sense, with actors sometimes speaking with their backs completely to the audience for seemingly no reason at all.
Quotidian Theatre Company's take on Hedda Gabler is intriguing and memorable, bringing new meaning to a classic drama while building nicely to its inevitably tragic conclusion. Hedda Gabler will be playing from October 24-November 23 at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD.
Image: Sarah Ferris and Katie Culligan, Photo Credit St. Johnn Blondell