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In the corner of a basement in a former bank building at Woodbine Avenue and Danforth in Toronto you will find some of the finest theatre in Canada. The prompt for this encomium is a glorious production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in a version by Lisa Repo-Martell.
Diana Bentley gives a masterful portrayal of the complex Hedda who is no doubt one of the most odious characters in dramatic literature but also a complicated women who deserves some consideration for her actions. In short, she is a prisoner of her society.
We see Hedda on the return from her six-month honeymoon during most of which her husband Jorgen Tesman (Qasim Khan) did research on domestic crafts in medieval Belgium. She married him because he seemed like a man on the rise. He is tedious, hangs off her arm, and she was bored to death. Hedda’s very existence is dependent on men. Her station in life is owed to her late father, a general. Judge Brack (Shawn Doyle) wants to establish a ménage à trois where Hedda is his toy. Her affair with the brilliant historian Eilert (Andrew Chown) falls apart and she has nothing to show for her life.
She has become a repulsive person acting cruelly towards her husband’s Aunt Julia (Fiona Reid), abusing Thea Elvsted (Leah Doz) and in the end giving a gun to her former lover and advising him to shoot himself in the temple as an act of heroism. She wants to have power over people and when she fails miserably and is in danger of having Brack have power over her, she follows the advice she gave Eilert.
Bentley gives us all aspects of Hedda’s character. She first appears dressed in a stylish black dress that bespeaks status. We see her become a manipulative and hypocritical being when she uses and abuses Thea. And we see her world collapsing as she has not gained power over anyone and can only perform the ultimate act of glory by picking up the gun and putting it to her temple.
Her spirit rises and does a maenad dance mimicking the frenzied followers of Dionysus who danced with wine leaves on their heads. This is an addition to Ibsen’s play and a fantastic final image of Hedda Gabler posthumously fulfilling her ambition. It is also a final image of Diana Bentley’s bravura performance.
Immense credit is due to the other actors in the play who help define Hedda’s personality. Qasim Khan is the decent but pathetic Tesman who reached high by marrying the general’s daughter but could not provide her with anything that she wanted. The devious Judge Brack in a scheming manipulator who wants power over Hedda and he came close to succeeding. He is a male Hedda and far more successful in the male-dominated society. Khan is superb as the confident man-about-town who knows what he wants and almost gets it.
Andrew Chown gives an outstanding performance as the brilliant but broken-down historian who comes close to reestablishing himself. Chown displays the drama and horror of a man who has fallen again and could find no way out.
Leah Doz as Thea Elvsted is simply marvellous as a women imprisoned in her society but runs away from her cell and finds salvation through decency and hard work. She is the true hero of the play and Doz gave a memorable performance. Fiona Reid as Julia and Nancy Beatty as Aunt Berta are superb.
A great deal of the credit for the production belongs to Director Moya O’Connell. Those with long memories will recall that she played Hedda at the Shaw Festival in 2012 and does a superb job in presenting this incredible production. We feel Hedda’s boredom and dependence on men or the potential victim of men. Her rebellion is against them and the society from which she cannot find an escape. She becomes a monster. O’Connell’s masterly directing brings out all the aspects of this fearsome play.
The set by Joshua Quinlan consists of a coffee table with chairs and a sofa on a rug. There is a door at the back of the stage leading to the garden and we can see a piano. We see (a?) woman playing the piano frantically in the opening scene and a fandom maenad dancing in the end. Quinlan’s costumes for Hedda are high class and the rest are ordinary perhaps 19th century attire.
And all of this is happening in a tiny basement theatre in the east end of Toronto that boasts of a Danforth Avenue address even though its entrance is on Woodbine Avenue.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen in a new adaptation by Lisa Repo-Martell continues until June 6, 2024, at the Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Ave. Toronto, (northwest corner of Woodbine and Danforth).

Diana Bentley as Hedda Gabler. Photo: Elana Emer

May 24, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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