Do we live our "little life lies" and be happy, even if that happiness is built on sand, or do we try to live up to our ideals, no matter the personal cost? That is the powerful question that fuels Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck.
Ibsen's beautiful, moving masterpiece is a tragicomedy concerning Hjalmer Ekdal, a struggling photographer, and his eccentric family, whose happiness and harmony are jeopardized when an old friend, Gregers Werle, comes to call. Armed with a dangerous secret, Werle forever transforms their lives as he lives out his own self-appointed destiny. Whether that transformation is for the worse or the better is open to debate. What is clear, though, is how imaginative and relevant Ibsen's 1884 work remains, especially when given a production as emotionally resonant as the one given by the Century Center Ibsen Series.
Director Will Pomerantz, whose work last fall on the Culture Project's A Tale of Two Cities remains one of the highlights of the season, has once again taken a classic warhorse and returned with a fresh, compelling evening of simple, intelligent creativity. Using Ibsen scholar Rolf Fjeldes's crisp, multi-textured translation, Pomerantz and crew (costume designer Moira Shaughnessy, another T2C alum; lighting designer L.B. Luebbers; scenic consultant Ned Fishbein and sound designer Jim Bauer) have given this sprawling work an intimacy that is doubly astonishing considering the cavernous elegance of the ballroom in which the production was performed. From the smallest prop to the largest performance, everything about the production was first-rate, glowing with the polish of immaculately detailed theatricality.
Especially outstanding in the uniformly excellent cast were Karla Nielson, who infused Mrs. S¯rby with the lightness of a genially lethal bubble; Tom Morrissey, touching as Hjalmer's aging father; and Patricia Chilson, poignant as Hjalmer's troubled wife Gina. Kameron Steele excelled as the self-indulgent Gregers Werle, subtle and elegant in a part that could easily be overplayed and obvious. Riley Wood, in the even showier role of Hjalmer Ekdal, also underplayed, endowing his character with a truth that was shattering. The most impressive work, however, came from the radiant Lexie Kahanovitz. A 16-year-old playwright making a spectacular acting debut with this production, she was heartbreaking as the Ekdals' only child, Hedvig. If the rest of the cast gave the production its humanity, Kahanovitz gave it its soul.
The fifth in Century Center's Ibsen Series (they are in the laudable
process of producing all twelve of Iben's major plays in chronological
order), this production of The Wild Duck was remarkable
by any standards, an enthralling evening for anyone who is interested
in experiencing theatre that engages, questions, and ultimately
provokes both passion and tears. Tears of sadness, tears of pain,
and tears of joy.
(Also featuring John August Baker, D. Michael Berkowitz,
Frank Dowd, and Duncan Rogers. Useless factoid:
in a 1929 Broadway production, Hedvig was played by the 21-year-
old Bette Davis.)
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita