This production would be easy to brush off, troubled as it was by all the perils of Off-Off-Broadway. But its ensemble kept the play bravely afloat in heavy seas.
Without a long evening of preparation, the sacrifice of young Hedvig Ekdal would be hard to take and would more likely result in laughs than tears. (She shoots herself as a sign to her father that she loves him -- in the hope, perhaps, that he will forgive her for being a bastard.)
The Ekdals have long depended on the kindness of old Werle for their survival. Werle overpays Ekdal's ancient father, who long ago took the fall for a botched business scheme, for copying work. Werle also set the Ekdals up in the photography business. Mrs. Ekdal used to be Werle's mistress. When Hjalmar Ekdal's buddy Gregers Werle, fresh in town from running the family mill and full of a desire to spread truth and the spirit of the "Ideal," exposes the sorry mess to Hjalmar, the latter decides he wants none of the family life. Hence Hedvig's sacrifice.
The story rests on the pillar of old Werle, whose solidity is starting to crack with old age and encroaching blindness. Dylan Green could dominate a scene from the back of the house with his voice alone. Dennis Fox was also credible as Hjalmar Ekdal, who maintains his role as supreme leader of his household while not actually doing anything beyond taking a midday nap. Katie Firth showed how his submissive but loving and capable wife supports him in his fantasies, perhaps because she knows that she is otherwise poised above the abyss reserved for women with a Past. And Leila Gerstein portrayed Hedvig in all her neurotic intensity and desire to please. Lars Hanson's Gregers captured his overheated "idealism," which is more a self-indulgent belief in his own power to persuade, stemming from his carefree and pampered youth. E. Patrick Healy, as the Werle butler, Petterson, and Jan Steinway, as Mrs. Sorby, old Werle's intended, also more than held up their ends of the tale. Dan Hicks was well-cast as the cynical Dr. Relling.
Into this merrily simmering kettle director Fordyce tossed some alarmingly odd ingredients, notably a trouser-role Old Ekdal (Dora Litinaki), whose accent came from closer to Romania than Norway and who wore raccoon makeup and carried a mask on a stick. Some minor casting -- a thin man with padding (Robert Rudder) as the Fat Guest and a young woman (Kate Hershenson) as an old guest -- also gave pause. While many of the cast showed fine stagecraft, much of the blocking was unfocused. (Their pacing, on the other hand, kept things going, even at three hours and change running time. Anything more would have been fatal.)
Costumes (Misha Kuchta) were remarkably well thought-out for a production of this budget. The set (Rebecca Groves), although not always painted, showed some attention to detail. Alas, the lighting (Jenni McSpadden) left the actors in darkness much of the time. Yes, real darkness. (Even had the lighting worked, it is odd to light a whole stage with nothing but spotlights.) Some props (Kim Hilbrich), like a handpainted, flat, wooden gun, were odd. A curtain across the Ekdal home allowed the first act, a soiree at the Werle household, to be played almost successfully as vaudeville. The rest of the play seemed to have been underscored periodically in crayon.
It was a wonder that this cast reached the end of the play with the script, tattered but intact, still flying proud. But fly it did. (Also featuring Jeremy Silverstein.)