Earlier this year, Palindrome Theatre presented Austinites with a lavish and intricate production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and in the process earned heavy acclaim and large audiences. With an invitation to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in their pocket, they once again return to the play, this time changing it dramatically, with the help of Nigel O’Hearn, trimming the fat and paring down the text, turning Ibsen’s masterpiece into a lean, finely paced production that keeps what is necessary, while doing away with troublesome and extraneous sections. At first, audiences may be worried about missing major pieces of the action, but they’ll find most of the important events still take place, only in a much more brisk manner than in the original play.
The play itself isn’t the only thing that has changed dramatically; the cast has gone through massive changes as well. Nathan Osborn, who many may remember as Lovborg in the play’s previous incarnation, now takes on the roll of Tesman, providing a very different take on the character than Aaron Alexander, who previously played the role. While Alexander played the part with softer notes, Osborn attacks the role with an amazing mixture of Woody Allen neurosis and Jack Nicholson intensity, turning what was a pleasant also-ran in the original into a dynamic and exciting front man. Also new to the cast is Nigel O’Hearn himself, who brings a subtlety to his role of Lovborg, allowing his anger to simmer under the surface, not ever overplaying his confusion or fury. He’s at his best when he’s playing against Robin Grace Thompson’s Hedda, the two feeding off each others energy brilliantly to create some truly memorable moments.
Chase Crossno was admittedly one of my least favorite parts of Palindrome’s first production of Hedda Gabler, but she has made amazing strides with the role, bringing a touching sensitivity to her performance that is sure to have the audience in tears. Whenever she walks on stage, you can feel the sorrow with every step, as if at the slightest drop of hat, she might fall apart, and once she does, it’s hard not to feel a pang in your heart. Thompson also returns in top form, bringing all the diversity and madness that made her performance so memorable in the first production to the table, but compressing all of her range into a shorter running time. She plays Hedda with a healthy dose of madness, but she’s far from one note, letting the madness seep in like an underground river, which explodes in a geyser when we least expect it, mixed with a subtle soupcon sadness and honest emotion. Last, but certainly not least, is Jacquerline Harper as the maid, Berthe, whose role has been greatly expanded, creating a character with actual dimensions and backstory. In this new version, she becomes a person living with real pain, and through Harper, that pain and sorrow is palpable, especially in the newly created opening soliloquy, where she turns and faces the audience and introduces us into the hectic world of Ibsen’s creation.
Director Kate Eminger has taken on the daunting task of making a Hedda Gabler that is at once respectful to the original text, while at the same time wholly unique and novel, and she, along with her talented cast and crew, have accomplished that in spades. As you watch, you feel that this is Hedda at its core, at its essence, while at the same time, one that is a refreshing change of pace from the usual Ibsen. Fans of both the original play and those of more avant-garde theatre will find plenty to love in this piece, which is sure to please even the stuffy Scottish crowds.
Hedda Gabler is playing at Salvage Vanguard Theatre for three nights only, July 28th-July 30th, before making its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information, and to purchase tickets (of which there are very few, and which are disappearing quickly), visit Palindrome’s website at palindrometheatre.com.