Hedda Gabler at Raven Theater

Hedda’s Not Crazy

By Timothy McGuireHedda killing time by playing with her guns again                

This production of Hedda Gabler, directed by Michael Menendian, takes place in the 1930’s at a time when women were more expected to play “their role” in the household of supporting their husband and raising kids, but what about that woman as an individual, and her own personal desires? 

Hedda was a strong individual while growing up, with materialistic desires and social aspirations.  She was a beautiful woman desired by many men.  George Tesman knew this when he married Hedda.  We know this from the conversation he has with Aunt Julia, when he comments on how others must be green with envy.   Then once they were married he seemed to have his own expectations for her, one expectation being that she should not have any personal aspirations for herself and can be happy with a life of just the two of them. 

On the exterior Mr. Tesman and his Aunt appear to be kind and thoughtful, yet they allow Hedda no real control over any aspect in her life.  This explains why the first time Hedda enters the stage she is already frustrated, moody and bossy.  She tries to take control of anything she can, no matter how insignificant.  She immediately orders the curtains to be closed, plans how to rearrange the rooms, and intimidates her guest Miss Julie Tesman.

The bedroom that Hedda arrives from is creatively designed to represent Hedda’s circumstances.  It is a box.  The outside of the fully enclosed box is wrapped beautifully like a gift, a gift that any young girl would desire.  Although, once you are inside you realize it is just a box and Hedda is trapped inside.  The whole stage is wonderfully designed to set the atmosphere for the life that Hedda is trapped in.  The play starts out with a Huge Trunk that opens up to show us the inside of George and Hedda Tesman’s new home.  I have heard three different theater companies talking about how they wish to replicate a set like Andrei Onegin has designed for Hedda Gabler.

Ok, it is possible that I date too many crazy girls, or actually they might just be more enlightened, but Hedda seems normal for a woman in 2009.  Her lack of an individual identity, search for personal stimulation and her lack of control of anything in her life draw empathy and understanding of the more malicious acts she commits.  How can an individual be expected to give up the person that they are and who they will become?  Hedda doesn’t look to cheat on her husband in a sexual way, she seeks personal stimulation and control over what goes on in her own life.

Hedda is trapped with no personal stimulation of her own.  She is trapped in her house, with no connection to others outside her family for conversation and entertainment, and George acts as if Hedda should be happy with her situation and just accept it.  Hedda’s inner strength and desire for more in life push her to manipulate the lives around her.  

Hedda’s destiny lies in the success and desires of George rather than of her own accord.  While George seems content to wait and let things happen to him, she desires a man with the courage to make life happen for himself, especially when her fate is dependant upon his.  Even the Judge, who presents a proposition of creating a social triangle so that she can socialize through him, is only another character in control of Hedda’s fate instead of herself. 

Eventually even the Judge finds a way to directly control Hedda.  Even the kind words from Aunt Julia to not worry about the death of another aunt, are interpreted as another means of controlling what Hedda is allowed to think.  She wants a Glorious life, not one of babies and loneliness.  She wants to control her own fate, and in the end, she does.Hedda in black

This is an opportunity to see extraordinary acting.  Each actor/actress brings out their own character’s personality.  It is a pleasure to watch Mackenzie Kyle on stage, whose beauty is enhanced by her stellar performance and control of Hedda’s rollercoaster emotions keeping them stirring and believable.  Her subtle facial expressions and tense body movements keep Hedda’s feelings in our minds and allow us into Hedda’s personality.   Ian Novak brings a kind, aspiring, yet naive George to life.  He presents a man who does not mean any harm, and naturally plays George so that we feel we are just looking in on him.  His performance creates perfect comedic timing around him.  Symphony Sanders drives each conflict along with her expressive emotions of support and pain, as Ms. Elvsted, and Ian Paul Custer was perfectly cast as Eilbert Lovberg.  He looks the role of writer trying to make it back after a low-time in his life.  He speaks with a passion in his voice that allows the audience to have empathy for the events that take place.  Each actor/actress helped makes this play believable and truly entertaining.

Raven Theater completes its 26th season with a beautifully entertaining piece and thought provoking themes.   I have already gone to see the play twice, and would gladly see it again.  Each time I have left with ideas to fill three days worth of conversation.

 

Highly Recommended

Hedda Gabler has now been extended through July 25th.

Where:  Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60660

Runs:  Thursday-Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm

Tickets:  www.raventheatre.com or 773-338-2177

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Medieval ‘Red Noses’ Pokes Fun at Religion

Red Noses at Strawdog Theater

 

By Timothy McGuireRedNoses-04

Strawdog’s production of Red Noses is a hilarious, comedy that addresses serious issues.  Red Noses portrays the Catholic Church as corrupt and absurd through sarcasm and humor.  It pokes fun at those that follow the strict word of the Church without questioning if it is truly kind and correct. 

Red Noses takes place in the mid 1300’s when the Black Plague has wiped out half of Europe’s population.  Peter Barnes wrote Red Noses in 1985 when the AIDS epidemic was scaring this country.  Many people possessed hurtful and negative judgments of HIV/AIDS victims, and they used the Catholic Church to defend their hateful opinions. 

In Red Noses, the Pope and leaders of the Catholic Church are concerned with order, obedience and submission of their followers.  They desire control and power rather than faith or the betterment of the people around them. 

While half the population is being wiped out by the plague, God gives one priest (Father Flote) a special mission, to save the suffering people through laughter.   Father Flote travels and puts together a comedy troupe to spread cheer through the world. 

Seeing no harm in this crazy idealistic voyage, the Pope allows Father Flote to carry out his mission.  Although, once the plague is gone, the Catholic Church goes back to its dictatorial rule and eliminates anyone who posses contradictory opinions to the Church.

The director Matt Hawkins does a wonderful job of bringing 23 performers together in Strawdog’s intimate setting.  While most of the actors are current members of Strawdog’s theater ensemble, Hawkins also brought in a variety of great talent from other storefront theaters.  This larger cast is especially appreciated since lately so many productions have cut-down their cast sizes. 

Hawkins’ production of Red Noses is playful and at times corny, but it keeps you entertained through out the performance.  Each actor brings professionalism to their character so that the playfulness does not interfere with the themes the play presents.

Where:  Strawdog Theater, 3829 N. Broadway St., Chicago, IL 60613

When:  April 19- May 23

Runs:  Friday and Saturday at 8pm., and Sundays at 7pm

Tickets:  Please call 773-528-9696 or visit http://www.strawdog.org

Mice and Men @ Steppenwolf Theater

Of Mice and Men

By Timothy McGuire

Paul D'Addario and Keith Kyperer as George and Lennie

Paul D'Addario and Keith Kyperer as George and Lennie

 “Lennie!  Lennie for god’ sakes don’t drink so much.  Lenie… You gonna be sick like you was last night.”

            Then as George pulls Lennie’s head up and out of the deep green river we get our first chance to see Lennie’s goofy smile and glazed-over eyes.  At that moment we are taken a few miles south of Soledad, to the banks of the Salina River. 

 Steppenwolf for Young Adults has brought on stage the great American story Of Mice and Men, originally told to us by John Steinbeck, and now directed by Michael Patrick Thornton.  This performance draws us in with terrific casting and extraordinary acting.  The set is mostly bare except for a few simple props, but the realism of each character’s performance and the natural timing of the dialogue allow our imagination to see the California ranch and all of its separate living spaces.  Each actor brings to life the fictional characters we imagined while reading the book. 

 Keith Kupferer does a wonderful job capturing the innocent heart and slow mind of Lennie, and Paul D’Addario expresses the complex nature of George’s character and the close relationship he has with Lennie.  The sniffling, shaky breaths coming from the audience at the end of the play left no doubt that Thornton and the caste made an emotional connected with the audience.

 

Emanuel Buckley as "Crooks" and Richard Henzel as "Candy", look in on George and Lennie

Emanuel Buckley as "Crooks" and Richard Henzel as "Candy", look in on George and Lennie

 The story Of Mice and Men consists of so many themes, self-discovery, the importance of relationships, and the pursuit of your personal dreams.  In this performance each character finds a way to express the idea that life can be insignificant without someone to share it with, at times it doesn’t even matter who it is, just somebody. 

 Throughout the performance this desire for companionship surfaces; in the pleas from Curly’s wife for anyone to talk to her, the depressing anger of Crooks for being stuck with inanimate objects rather than being allowed to hang-out with the other men, and in the obscure yet dependable relationship between George and Lennie.  All of these scenarios speak to the audience about the importance of having someone to share life’s details with.

 These themes have a direct relevance to the life of a teenager and the choices that they contemplate on a daily basis.  Steppenwolf for Young Adults helps facilitate this learning process by inviting a younger crowd to experience the play and making the starting time at 11AM.  They also encourage the teens in the audience to join them afterwards for a discussion of the performance. 

 Reflecting on the themes portrayed in Of Mice and Men is an important part of learning and discovering one’s self in their teenage years, but these important themes still hit-home to the personal lives of adults.  Steppenwolf Theater brings to stage a beautiful Story for all ages to enjoy.Where: 

 

Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N. Halsted

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