Some 15+ years ago, when I was living with my parents, I decided to rummage through my parents' bookshelves in the front room to see what I could find. I came across a book full of plays by Henrik Ibsen. I knew nothing of Ibsen at the time--I had never heard of him or any of his works. I thumbed through the book and the title of a particular play captured my attention: Ghosts. Hmmm. . . that is an interesting title for a play, I thought, so I began to read. I was intrigued. It was strange how I could not seem to put the book down. Was I actually enjoying reading drama? By plays end I was hooked on the content and style of Henrik Ibsen. Since that time I have read and seen many of Ibsen's plays and I can honestly say that he is my favorite playwright. I have read eleven of his plays and have seen several of his plays in live performances. Anytime I learn of an Ibsen play being performed somewhere near where I live I absolutely must purchase two tickets--one for myself, and of course, one for a date. Needless to say, I was bummed about a month ago when I discovered that there was a performance of Ghosts in Los Angeles, but that the production had just run its course the week before I had learned about it. Needless to say, one might imagine the excitement that I had this past week when searching the internet for plays, to discover a small theater in Los Angeles performing Ibsen's Hedda Gabbler!
Hedda Gabbler, like many of Ibsen's plays, is a dark psychological study in character and circumstance. One may learn a lot about self, others, and society at large through Ibsen's works. Because of the "heavy" themes that course their way through Ibsen's plays, I have to be careful as to who I decide to take out. To take a woman to an Ibsen play who is neither educated nor well-rounded would be a mistake. Apparently, I made a wise selection with whom I had invited out as I discovered afterward that she both enjoyed the play and had intelligent insights concerning the plot and characterization.
I have seen Hedda Gabbler performed before--ten years ago to be exact, at the Geffen Playhouse staring Annette Benning. Friday night's performance was done well, but was quite different from the Geffen performance (I actually prefer the Geffen as it remained more true to the original whereas Friday's performance was placed into more Modern, American times). That is not to take away from the performance at the Ark Theater--it was well done and well worth the money spent. It was simply different. The Geffen performance was more subtle in its troubled portrayal of Hedda whereas the Ark performance was more pointed. Both approaches have their strengths, but from my perspective their is something more pressing upon the soul and psyche when subtle nuances reveal disturbing characteristics. Regardless, the Ark performance was a success and I rather enjoyed the experience.
I would take the time to offer some analysis regarding the themes, plot, and characterization from the play, but that I shall save for anyone who would like to discuss it in person. Besides, it may not be a bad idea for whomever may be reading this post to pick up a copy of Hedda Gabbler and read it for oneself, to form one's own opinions, and to grapple with one's own interpretation of meaning. Then a discussion would be much more intriguing. Of course, if you haven't read or seen any Ibsen before, then I suggest looking into some of his other plays first. My favorite are: An Enemy of the People, A Doll's House, The Wild Duck, and Ghosts. Any of these would be a great introduction into the style of Ibsen. What I shall leave you with is a poem that I had written some ten years ago, following the Geffen performance of Hedda Gabbler.
UPON SEEING IBSEN PERFORMED: HEDDA GABBLER, APRIL 2, 1999 AT THE GEFFEN THEATER
The human art of suffering,
The art of the repressed
Appears upon the stage before my sullen eyes caressed.
How great the inner struggle of a strange, diverting mind
That thrashes through the inner soul, that thrashes now through mine.
Ah, I see the charact'ry,
The strong and the naive,
The base, the cunning, and the fool, each wanting to believe
In something grand and distant,
And in pursuit what we abhor
Emerges from the great abyss
Of want and lonely longingness.
O, the passion! O, the rage!
O, the cunning of the sage
Whose dream and vision of these lives
become our own. . . become our own. . .
To laugh, to cry, to love, to hate,
To act in reason, to act irate.
Is this the span of misery, of life of longing to be free?
Free of vain society?
Free of one's propriety?
Free of cause and of effect?
Free of personal regret?
Freedom in the soul discrete saved from
A blinded longing
Is found within obedience,
No want of a belonging,
Nor in pursuit of a revenge, nor in a mended dream,
For all in life when viewed ideal
Is nothing what it seems.
And how the course of mad pursuit
Is stocked within the raging heart,
Unyielding to reason's request,
But trusting vain passions, no less,
That inward are unbridled.
And how this course, a darkly sight,
Leads to a morbid ending
When actions thought to hide the truth
In death prove a pretending.
--Brett Hall (April 4, 1999)