HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Harrison Thomas (Desiderata/Leroy Street Theatre). At the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West). Runs to September 7. $20. leroystreettheatre.com. See listing. Rating: NNN
The image I have in my mind for Ibsen's Hedda Gabler is that of a woman standing on a high ledge, unable to move forward; she has no choice but to leap off into darkness.
The classic drama centres on the strong-willed Hedda (Lauren Horejda), recently married to scholar George Tesman (Cameron Sedgwick), who has no real sense of his bride. Back from their honeymoon, they move into a new house and discover that Tesman's academic rival, Eilert Lovborg (John Chou), has also returned to town. With the help of Thea Elvsted (Anne van Leeuwen), Lovborg has written a book that might overshadow Tesman's own studies.
Emotional needs go in all directions: Hedda desires the formerly hedonistic Lovborg, with whom she was once involved; he has a bond with Thea; Hedda enjoys taunting the nervous Thea, her former classmate; Tesman dotes like a schoolboy on Hedda; family friend Judge Brack (Carmine Lucarelli) suggests an exclusive and ongoing affair with the sensual Hedda.
Director and adaptor Harrison Thomas shapes most of the relationships well, giving the script a different turn by having the battling academics concerned not with history but with biology.
The tension between characters is the production's most successful element. Thomas gives two of them - Thea and Tesman's aged aunt (Lynne Griffin) - stronger personalities than is often the case. As a result, they become worthy antagonists for Hedda.
The best scenes are between Hedda and Thea, who generate anxiety, frustrated anger and even a touch of sensual heat in each other's company, and the flirtatious push-pull between Hedda and Brack, with Hedda seeming to follow the judge's seductive lead but pulling back when things look like they'll actually become physical.
Tesman can be an annoyingly weak and malleable character, but Sedgwick gives him some interesting shading later in the play. Too bad the miscast Chou brings little fire to Lovborg. His scenes with both women who care about him, moments that should crackle with energy, are flat.
No production of the play works without a strong Hedda, and Horejda communicates most of the nuances of this robust woman, disdainful of those around her while concerned with scandal and how society views her.
She's rejected by those she wants to be accepted by, coveted by those she wants to leave her alone. When all the desired possibilities for her future disappear, we understand why she chooses her final course of action.