Hedda Gabler Explores Diversity and Division of Roles
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Saturday, February 25, 2017
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Saturday, February 25, 2017
The UMass Theater Department tackles its first production of the semester with Henrik Ibsen’s classic, Hedda Gabler, adapted by Eva Le Gallienne and performed in the Rand Theater. At the time of its premiere in 1891, the character of Hedda was described as a “vicious, heartless, cowardly, unmoral, mischief-making vixen.” This multidimensional character is at the center of the show and is essentially the manipulator of the plot. When translated to a modern-day stage, one could interpret the text to be outdated, as Hedda was once a woman considered to be threatening to the patriarchal norms, but director Christina Pellegrini explains there’s a reason why people revisit this text. “We [were] curious why artists keep returning to this text over and over again, and what in it might still be relevant to our audience in 2017. We worked from a translation of the text by actress and theatre-maker Eva Le Gallienne, who herself wrestled with playing the role of Hedda,” Pellegrini explained. “We were inspired by her writing on the play, her experience of wrestling with Ibsen’s words, and wanted to explore what it means for women in 2017 to inhabit this role—what can they tell us about Hedda, and what can she tell us about ourselves?”
In the department’s entirely female ensemble, every actor has the opportunity to take on the role of Hedda. “We have an ensemble comprised of seven women who each portray the role of Hedda within the production. Five of the seven actors also play a second role,” Pellegrini explained. “During our auditions, we played around with actors switching in and out of various roles, and we discovered very quickly that when our female actors played the male roles, the affectations of masculinity and patriarchal power were much more apparent—when men played these roles, those traits or mannerisms were often taken for granted, but juxtaposing male privilege with the image of a woman made the power structures clearer.” Emily Tanch ‘17 exemplifies this in a white and grey blazer and top hat as she portrays Hedda’s husband George; though incredibly intelligent, he’s a fidgety man, with childlike quirks and naivete.
As the show continues, each actress provides a particular interpretation in the role of Hedda. While Ellen Keith ‘18 steps into the role of Hedda first, she portrays the woman as enchantingly tactical; soon, Christine Hicks ‘18 relays a different side—a vixen who seems to enjoy the chaos that ensues. Though there is differentiation within the portrayals of Hedda, the ensemble still successfully communicates together and impresses all with the continuity and growth of the character. Women not involved in the current scene remain onstage as chorus members and observers. They are further sides of Hedda, witnessing and sometimes reacting to the moments in front of them. Words like “power” excite them, while the word “love” makes them scoff.
Within a completely greyscale set, the walls from the floor to the ceiling feature rows and rows of books. A few ladders act as the ensemble’s place of neutrality as they watch the action take place before them. The only set piece breaking the monochromatic theme is the brown piano, which the characters even reference to being out of place; this is a symbol for Hedda. Books and pieces of paper are strewn about, suggesting that the house is in disarray, and paper proves to be a motif throughout this production. As each actor portrays a character beyond Hedda, they change into costume designer Bethany Eddy’s paper-mache like clothing. True to traditional and period styles, the costumes include paint-like strokes that outline the patterns of the material down to the details of the bunching fabric.
This stellar cast of actors truly encapsulates the role of Hedda Gabler in their groundbreaking performances. With audiences on the edge of their seats throughout this performance, we are left with the question #WhoIsHedda? Performances include February 24-25th at 7:30 p.m., March 1-4 2017 at 7:30 p.m., as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, March 4th.