HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Judith Thompson, directed by Ross Manson, with Yanna McIntosh, Alon Nashman, Tom McCamus and Ann Baggley. Presented by Volcano in association with Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Previews begin Sunday (May 22), opens Wednesday (May 25) and runs to June 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm (except May 22 at 7 pm). $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, $15 previews. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Returning to the stage after several years raising a family, actor Ann Baggley has to stand up to one of the most formidable creations of Western theatre, Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler.
Baggley plays Thea Elvsted, the shy and unassuming woman forced to defend herself and also her soulmate, the writer Eilert Lovborg, from the powerful, complex, manipulative Hedda. Hedda's played in the upcoming Volcano production by Yanna McIntosh.
But rather than use the traditional version of Hedda, Volcano's Ross Manson has asked Judith Thompson to revisit the play she adapted for the Shaw Festival in 1991.
The result is a work whose first half is set at the turn of the 20th century, while the second takes place a century later.
"There's a wonderful conciseness of language in this new script," muses Baggley, who herself spent six seasons at the Shaw Festival in the 90s.
"Judith's able to tap into the emotion and thoughts of the characters immediately. Even the pauses in her speeches allow the actors to fill in bits of characterization."
The script gives Thea more strength than she has in the 1890 Ibsen text, but even in the original she's admirable for leaving an abusive husband at a time when women didn't speak of, much less do such things.
"The meekness is there when she first appears, and the restraining costumes I wear - big skirt, lace-up boots and so on - help give me a sense of being held in check.
"In the second half, with a costume that allows for more physical freedom, I have more freedom of thought as well," says the performer, who's always impressed audiences with the emotional truth of her stage work.
Baggley's stepped back into theatre among a group of talented performers, and she's appreciating the different ways those around her develop their characters.
"Yanna's always questioning everything to get its central truths, while Tom McCamus, who plays Lovborg, is so much about living the moment and taking his time with that. Alon Nashman as Tesman, Hedda's husband, is good at the physical antics that are such a part of that naíve character."
Thea is more worldly wise in the second half, able to express her emotions in a modern context that allows for swearing and confrontations.
"By the end of the play, Thea can hold Hedda responsible for a large chunk of the unhappiness she feels. She doesn't blame Hedda - Thea's a step above that - but she's conscious that Hedda has changed the lives of everyone in the play.
"I even think that Thea might contemplate suicide at one moment in the script, but she's a survivor and doesn't give it a second thought," says Baggley, clenching her fists to demonstrate the woman's inner strength.
"Ultimately, I think Thea's brave without realizing it. The bravest of people, I think, are those who don't have a choice about how they deal with something, but just go forward and confront what they have to. "