Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Judith Thompson, directed by Ross Manson, with Yanna McIntosh, Alon Nashman, Nigel Shawn Williams, Tom McCamus and Ann Baggley. Presented by Volcano in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Runs to June 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Even if not everything works, you have to admire Ross Manson and Judith Thompson for boldly reimagining Ibsen's Hedda Gabler .
Director Manson and adapter Thompson divide the play - about a bored, newly married woman who toys with the lives of those around her - into two time periods. The first act begins in the early 20th century; the second seems contemporary. The seeds of this artistic liberty are planted in the first act in a manuscript by Hedda's former lover, Eilert Lovborg, that prophesies a disturbing, bleak future.
When the curtain rises on the second act, that future has presumably arrived.
It's a clever conceit, one that presents the play more as a symbolic social document than as a piece of naturalistic domestic drama, which is how it's often performed.
Initially, the temporal change gives us a little spark, but it fails to ignite as the second act continues. Characters snort cocaine, a family portrait becomes a distorted Francis Bacon nightmare, a TV set broadcasts images of global strife, but all of this fails to explain the wild contradictions in the lead character.
What comes across, especially in Yanna McIntosh's superb performance, is how out-of-place Hedda is in the early 20th century.
Nearing 30 and married to a spineless academic, George Tesman ( Alon Nashman , in a subtle, heartbreaking turn), she flails at the bourgeois life in which she'll soon be trapped. At first she directs her energies outward, manipulating the lives of those around her. Then, when that fails - or disappoints her - she turns inward.
McIntosh modulates her performance brilliantly, girlish one moment, sarcastic the next, playing all her cards until she's got none left. She's onstage for virtually the whole play, and you can't take your eyes off her. Or your ears. Listen to the way she uses her voice to establish mood.
Nigel Shawn Williams breezes through the less complex role of a corrupt judge, while Tom McCamus powers through the difficult, obviously symbolic role of Lovborg.
Teresa Przybylski 's white-on-white set isn't the darkly furnished one Ibsen called for. But it does create the surreal scape that Manson and Thompson obviously want.