By Andrew Aulner, Contributor
Fraught with human emotions, University of Nebraska at Omaha’s production of legendary playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler,” directed by Dr. Douglas Paterson, has its ups and downs but in the end manages to please the audience with noteworthy performances, an excellent set, costume designs and a stirring climax.
The play’s protagonist, the sharp-tongued newlywed Hedda Tesman, née Gabler, who demonstrates her off-putting personality in her dealings with the maid, Bertha, struggles to find her own identity after moving into a large, well-furnished home with her husband, the naïve but lovable scholar George Tesman.
George often becomes distracted from his new wife by his studies, as well as the company of his surrogate mother, Aunt Juliana—or “Aunt Ju-Ju,” as George affectionately calls her.
The action of the play, which takes place in the 1890s, begins when the Tesmans are visited by Mrs. Elvstead, an old flame of George’s and a former schoolmate of Hedda’s. Mrs. Elvstead announces that Eilert Loveborg, George’s academic rival and a recovering alcoholic, has returned to town with a recently published book that has brought credibility back to his disgraced name.
Shortly afterward, George’s friend Judge Brack, a well-spoken but somewhat devious man, pays the family a visit. As the play progresses over the course of two eventful days in the lives of these characters, the audience receives insight into their hopes, fears and desires.
Theatergoers looking for a thrill-a-minute production with rousing, energetic sequences and fast-moving dialogue need not apply. Of course, the slower, more methodical pace of the show is necessary in order to accomplish its aura.
The bulk of the play concerns the interactions between these various characters and the inner thoughts revealed by those interactions. Such examination of the human personality must be revealed carefully, so those audience members who are willing to stick it out will be rewarded with the revelations that come as time goes on within the play.
The acting, which determines the credibility of the play, is great at some points and a tad hit-and-miss at others. Some supporting actors, like Leslie Little (Bertha) and Erin Moran (Aunt Juliana) have brief but important roles that the actors use for all they are worth. However, others, such as Dennis Stressman (Loveborg) and Randi Lee (Mrs. Elvstead), occasionally come off as hard-to-believe, while still striking an emotional chord at other points.
Fortunately, the two male leads, Scottie Pace and Michael Judah, masterfully pulled off excellent performances as the smooth-talking Judge Brack and the excitable George Tesman, respectively.
And finally, as a credit to her own ability rather than as a detriment to those of her fellow actors, Anna Jordan drives the play as the titular Hedda Gabler, balancing the character’s outwardly annoyed temperament with her inner turmoil and giving the audience a reason to feel sympathy for a deliberately unlikeable and unpleasant character.
Setting aside the pace, story, dialogue and characters for a moment, a look at the play’s appearance enhances the overall experience. The set design, headed by scenic designer Steven L. Williams, goes a long way toward convincing viewers that the characters are standing in a fancy living room from over 100 years in the past.
The costumes, which are designed by Sharon Sobel and range from period-piece dresses for the ladies to dandy three-piece suits for the gentlemen, further the illusion that this story really did happen in a time unknown to a modern audience. In a play focused on the lives of characters living so long ago, such verisimilitude is essential if the production is to succeed, and succeed it does.
The most important part of this production is the fact that the audience is expected to walk away wondering about their own lives. The shocking ending, as well as the twists and turns which brought the play there, serves to leave the audience shaken.
I certainly found myself in a contemplative mood as the lights dimmed and everyone filed out through the doors. As long as the majority of viewers leave the theater with questions about life and death brought about by the play on their minds, the cast and crew of “Hedda Gabler” will have done the job just right.
UNO’s version of “Hedda Gabler” is not perfect, but it comes close thanks to the merits of its cast and crew, as well as their execution of the play’s emotional impact, leading to a production that audiences will remember even after the show finishes its run.
You can see “Hedda Gabler” in the Weber Fine Arts Building at 7:30pm from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11; tickets to the show, which are free for full-time UNO students, can be acquired at the theater box office or at the door on the night of the show.