Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Margin Notes: Hedda (Gabler)

Valerie Redd as Hedda. Photo by Jeff Farkash.

Seen on: Saturday, 9/24/16.
My grade: A-. Sumptuous and intimate.

Plot and Background
Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen's 1891 classic, follows the titular character as she returns from her honeymoon, already bored with her new husband and seeking power and control over others' destinies. She is orbited by George, her smiling mediocrity of a husband; Judge Brack, a family acquaintance out for power of his own; and Eilert, a former flame - now sober, writing great works, and in love with an old classmate of Hedda's, Thea. As Hedda gathers and weaves the strands of these people's lives, she finds herself inextricably knotted in her own web. Hedda (Gabler) is produced by Wandering Bark Theatre Company, currently in residence at IRT. Wandering Bark, founded in 2011, is dedicated to exploring and adaption classical works, often with live music, multi-media design, and stylized physicality.

What I Knew Beforehand
It's vaguely possible I saw a teleplay of Hedda Gabler at some point, as the story beats felt familiar, and I definitely knew the play's final moment (and not just because of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder). And I knew I would be working through the fact that Ibsen generally leaves me cold.


Play: I don't know to whom to give the most credit - Matt Minnicino's taut 90-minute adaptation, Joseph Mitchell Parks's seamless, circling staging, or the cast, largely excellent and without self-indulgent flourishes - but this production belied my usual issues with Ibsen with aplomb. The story was gripping, full of inevitability and yet fighting its own fate with a laced-in ferality. The play still doesn't quite answer the question of just how such a person as Hedda can exist, but that seems to be an intended mystery - no one, not even Eilert, grasps the fullness of her, the hidden agendas, the plans, the manipulations. Only Hedda knows, and she's not telling. The play is staged with great economy, transitioning between scenes with stylized dances, as choreographed by Brad Landers, that give more insight into Hedda's inner motivations than her behavior in polite company. If you think you don't like Ibsen, I challenge you to take the time to go see this production, and then talk to me about it. If you do like Ibsen, then you should absolutely see it, and then talk to me about it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Someone please explain to me what this is

In a break from recent form, this little piece of flotsam is begging to be shared. I've begun a project of reading through all my old abandoned writing and scraps of discarded thoughts to see if there's anything salvageable.

And I have no idea what this is. Please enjoy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Digital Couch: A Conversation with Playwright James Parenti

Photo by Trish Phelps.
Playwright, actor, songwriter, and producer James Parenti has a story to tell. His play, May Violets Spring, "a new story for a new Ophelia," will be presented later this month by Turn To Flesh Productions, a company with the motto "Modern Themes. Classic Style." James and I had a seat on my digital couch this past week to chat about the play's journey and when it's okay to futz with Shakespeare. The following is a slightly edited version of our conversation.

Z: Let's start at the beginning - what prompted you to write May Violets Spring?
JP: About six years ago, I was involved with the theater company The Other Mirror. Their artistic director - the incredibly talented Katherine M. Carter - and I had known each other for years, and we were discussing doing a production of Hamlet, bouncing around ideas. I'd somehow gotten it into my head that it would be cool to have Ophelia onstage during Hamlet's first few soliloquies. In my mind, this would help solidify their relationship, and deepen the tragedy of them losing each other (I learned years later that Sir Derek Jacobi had done something similar in his touring Hamlet in the '70s). But then, what self-respecting person would sit silently while the one they love agonizes? Why wouldn't she speak up, try to help? It was really exciting to see these soliloquies as scenes rather than speeches. Ophelia's already an incredibly interesting character in Hamlet proper, but to see her bouncing around ideas with one of the most brilliant characters in the English-speaking theater was extremely satisfying.

I was also interested in a particular interpretation of Ophelia's mad scene. One of the flowers she distributes is rue, which historically was used as an abortifacient: i.e., could be used to induce a miscarriage to rid oneself of an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore: was Ophelia pregnant? Did she have a more sexual relationship with Hamlet than we had explicitly seen onstage? I don't think this is the only interpretation, but it's one I believe is supported by the text. So I took it upon myself to write a few lines in blank verse to add to the play. I thought that if they were written in such a way, they might sound enough like Shakespeare than an audience might not realize the lines hadn't always been there.

And when I brought these ideas to Katherine, she pointed out what I hadn't realized: changes like these weren't just modifications to Hamlet; they were changing something fundamental about it. This was the beginning of an adaptation, a new play. She was the first person to encourage me to not write only a few lines, but to see how far this rabbit hole would take me. Turns out, it's a pretty deep hole.