“Do you think I had some sort of power over you?” Hedda Gabler asks an old flame with a coy flick of head. But an eager and even desperate tone threads her voice like ice.
Senior Molly Warner takes on this titular role in Hedda Gabler, Seattle Pacific University Theatre Department’s spring mainstage production, which opens this Thursday at E.E. Bach Theatre at McKinley Hall.
“It’s all about power,” Warner says. “In readings we’d stop and ask, ‘OK, who has the power now? How do I get the power back?’”
But power is exercised by different characters in different ways in this drama by Henrik Ibsen, whose play has confounded and captivated audiences since 1890.
SPU implements a more modern adaption of the play, which sparkles with standout performances and a professional crew.
The play opens on the recent return of George Tesman, played by senior Joshua McBrayer, and his wife Hedda from a six-month honeymoon.
“Hedda’s the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me,” George says as he strides through his grandiose new home, achieved through a minimalistic stage design of simple white furniture and elegantly curved lines.
Their arrival coincides with Thea Elvsted’s, who brings news that Eilert Lovborg (George’s rival and a lover of Hedda’s) is back in town. The news is that Eilert has reformed his ways while with Thea’s partnership and has published a sensational new book.
But Thea’s power is undermined when Eilert attends a raucous party with George and Judge Brack, played by senior Zachary Christensen. Carousing till dawn, he loses the new manuscript he’s been working on with Thea but tells her he’s torn it to pieces instead. Distraught and disappointed, Thea accuses him of killing “their child.”
“At surface level, Thea’s a weak character,” junior Lauren Kelm says of her role. “But she leaves her husband for Eilert. I wanted to find those moments of strength and make sure they were clear.”
When Thea leaves Eilert, he turns to Hedda, who long ago threatened to shoot him with her father’s pistol when he broke off their relationship. Now she offers him one of the matched pair and urges him on — “do it gloriously, Eilert Lovberg, promise me that.”
Once he’s gone, Hedda crumples and burns the manuscript in the blazing fireplace.
The white stage flushes red and blue as she feverishly stuffs the papers in, screaming all the while that she is burning “Thea’s child.”
When Tesman returns, she admits she’s burned the book but tells him it was out of love for him. Frazzled, but apparently with the fires of love kindled in her heart, she begins calling him George and is on the verge of admitting she’s pregnant.
“I wanted to experiment with the hormonal implications of Hedda’s actions,” Warner said. “My sister’s pregnant right now and I called her several times for advice. I wanted to give Hedda more humanity, more emotional depth, than she’s usually given.”
But with the arrival of the judge, Hedda’s situation begins to unravel.
Eilert is dead, using Hedda’s pistol to shoot himself in a seedy boudoir. Recognizing the gun, the judge calls in favors and Hedda cannot stand that she’s in his power.
“The more we went through this process, the more empathy we felt for Hedda,” McBrayer says. “She’s stuck in a man’s world.”
“She wants power,” Christensen adds. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We started to see ourselves inside it. We entered the narrative and imagined ourselves in her shoes.”
In this light, the final act comes as little surprise. How many times have we seen Hedda twirl her father’s pistols, glance at his portrait, carelessly speak of duels? How many times have we heard her complain of boredom, complained of it ourselves? As the stage floods red for a final time, the boom echoes.
“People, people don’t do such things,” the judge muses as the stage fades to black.
But craving freedom, finding ourselves trapped, responding in innovative ways — Hedda Gabler convinces us we do, and that we cannot judge, in a powerful way.
Performances run April 24-26 and May 1-3 at 7:30 p.m.; matinee May 3 at 2:00 p.m. General admittance $12; students $10.