“Hedda Gabler” is one of those singular classic plays with a strong, complex, controversial female character at its center. Hedda G. is often considered the “it” role for serious actresses and, at least in this writer’s day, was a prime audition piece. But the general consensus has been that the character of Hedda Gabler is essentially an ice queen—a controlling bitch who seeks to deny others the happiness that, for no apparent reason, seems to elude her.
Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s Artistic Director, Baily Boudreau, thinks this reductive approach to the play’s heroine misses the point. “She was fully human,” he remarked just before the performance began. “She was ahead of her time.” And so he conceived this special adaption of Ibsen’s classic to help us see just how 3-dimensional Hedda Gabler is—by casting three women in the title role. They perform on stage together, throughout the play. Sometimes they double or echo the lines; but each actress represents a distinct aspect of Hedda’s persona. The lines that reveal this inner complexity are voiced by the appropriate actress. The effect is mesmerizing.
Katilyn Valor Bourque portrays the calculating, emotionally distant trophy wife of George Tesman (Ryan Ernst). This is the Hedda we are most familiar with, and the only version of Hedda that her husband, and most of society, really sees.
Luna Alexander is Hedda the seductress–the voice of sublimated passions. In her younger days, We learn that, in her younger days, Hedda had a fling with the brilliant but alcoholic Eilert Lovborg (Artun Kircali). Afraid of falling in love with such a dissipated character, Hedda threw him over (at gun point) for the more conventional and suitable George, whom she does not love. This is the Hedda that smirks at George’s obsession with his work (even on their honeymoon) and despairs of finding sexual fulfillment. When Eilert enters the room, he is immediately drawn to this version of Hedda, and we see that for both of them, the passion still burns.
The third version of Hedda Gabler is the one that most outraged audiences in Ibsen’s day. Tiaja Sabrie is the independent young woman who is disenchanted with convention, with restrictive gender roles, and is desperate to control to her own life. This is the Hedda that draws the unwanted attention of George’s friend and sponsor Judge Brack (Jay Jolliffe). He recognizes in this free-thinking Hedda a woman who might agree to an unconventional “friends with benefits” arrangement. This is the Hedda who is disruptive, who chafes at convention and who scorns all those willing to settle for so little.
The catalyst character in this Slipstream adaptation is Thea Elvsted, played by Victoria Rose Weatherspoon. Thea is trapped in an unhappy marriage, but is smitten with Hedda’s former lover, Eilert Lovborg, and is his mistress. Thea has not only helped Eilert regain sobriety, but has worked side by side to produce a highly successful first book and an even more promising second effort.
Of course, none of Hedda’s personas can stomach the idea of Thea and Eilert triumphing over her. And although she does not love her husband George, she cannot afford to have his career overshadowed by Eilert’s rising star. She determines to take matters into her own hands, but is conflicted about the best course of action. That conflict, beautifully dramatized by our three Heddas, puts into motion the events that lead unalterably to the tragic ending for which this play is known.
This Slipstream Initiative adaptation is the most interesting, relevant and compelling production of Hedda Gabler we could hope to see. Although purists may object to the trimmed script and modified dialog, the characters, the story and the revealed social psyche are, we believe, true to Ibsen’s original intent. See it while you can.
The production is directed by Bailey Boudreau, with technical design and execution by Ryan Ernst. Meghan Lynch assistant directs, and Mr. Boudreau doubles as the costume designer.
This STI adaptation of “Hedda Gabler” runs through February 16 with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m. The final performances, February 14 through 16, shift to Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tickets are only sold in advance and are available via the Slipstream website or by emailing InsideTheSlipstream@gmail.com.
Slipstream Theatre Initiative is located at 460 Hilton in Ferndale. Due to the intimate nature of the performance space, and the fact that the show runs without intermission, late admissions are not allowed. The theatre community is encouraged to follow STI’s show-specific Twitter account, @WeAreAllHedda, to get an inside look at the theatrical process.