From May 16 to June 1, The Art Theatre of Davis will present the play Hedda Gabler by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. This is the new theatre company’s second production and will be directed by local actor and dancer Timothy Nutter.
Hedda Gabler was published in 1891 in Germany. The play follows a wealthy, newly married upper-class woman (Hedda) living under the expectations of the European patriarchy in the late 19th century. Women in this era were expected to fulfill their expected gender roles as housekeepers, child-bearers, hostesses and submissive objectified entities for men’s pleasure. This realist production looks at the psychological effects of social gender roles on women and also explores the themes of marriage, manipulation, power, suicide and existentialism.
At the time of its publication, the play was considered controversial and rebellious for the ideas it prompted. It was presented in an informal style that strayed from extreme soliloquy and Shakespearean dramatics. The realism of the play forced audiences to consider their own existences in the context of the themes the production upheld in a way most theatre had not before.
Tyler Shaffo, a local actor who will portray Jöergen Tesman (Hedda’s husband) in the play, said he finds the script significant for its landmark feminist qualities.
“It’s historically one of the first major important female roles and it’s one of the most complex and psychological roles of its time,” Shaffo said. “The feminist interpretation of the play allows us to see that this woman is trapped in a patriarchal world that expects certain things of her that she does not want to engage with; she wants something more from life. It allows the audience a space to think about those issues.”
The title character Hedda Tesman (her maiden name being Gabler) has been considered by critics to be one of the most multi-dimensional and complex roles ever written. Hedda’s character has been interpreted in many different ways by many different actresses throughout time. She has been depicted as a villain, a victim of circumstance, a psychological nutcase, a strong feminist, a misunderstood heroine and an intersection of many of these portrayals combined.
Local actress Tatiana Ray is set to play Hedda in The Art Theatre’s upcoming production. She said portraying this role will be huge for her because she feels it is one of the most dimensional and complex roles ever written.
“She’s [Hedda] too smart for the life she leads,” Ray said. “The characters that are happy in the end are the characters that are naïve about the world around them and have an innocence they are able to maintain — that’s one of the lessons in the play. Ibsen gives a rather grotesque picture of what it looked like to be a woman in the 1800s and the extreme conditions someone as smart as Hedda would’ve had to endure.”
The play has a number of unique characters that each represents a different kind of wealthy perspective. Most of the characters are oblivious to the suffocating atmosphere the patriarchy creates amongst the females around them, and this is meant to encourage the audience to question the patriarchal environment they reside in.
Local actor John Mclean will be playing Judge Brack, one of the many naïvely content characters in the show. Mclean said he hopes the audience will be able to find connections with some of the characters depicted in the production.
“When you come to see the play you’ll see a lot of human element going on,” Mclean said. “Different characters have different motivations. You wouldn’t be stuck relating to just one person in this production because it’s [the play] really a study in human emotion and human character traits.”
Hedda Gabler will be presented at Third Space at 946 Olive Drive on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Reservations for the show can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AKIRA OLIVIA KUMAMOTO can be reached at email@example.com.