By Jen Lofquist
Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is almost a master class in restrained theatre. His words, like the Nordic landscape, are stark and carved. Ibsen will tolerate no over-acting and no scene chewing. Britches and Hose Theatre Company tackled this dense and difficult work with crafted expertise—and did so in the word of the main character “beautifully.”
Lori Brooks as Hedda Gabler is a masterpiece of restraint, containment, and descent into madness. Her eyes could write a treatise on how to play Hedda, making the character both inviting and terrifying. As the plot turns and Hedda slowly unravels to the tragic conclusion, Brooks never wavers in her perfect grasp of the character, never wavering from the thread-thin line of Hedda’s character.
Brooks is well matched by Daniel Reinhart as George Tesman, a man completely outmatched by his wife. Reinhart plays him as caring and loving, but in the end completely unaware of the woman he has married. It would be tempting to try to grab focus, but Reinhart governs his character with subtlety. He is the perfect foil for Brooks.
Contrasting this couple, are Thea Elvsted and Eilert Lovborg. While Hedda avoids scandal, Thea embraces it, leaving her husband for the Eilert, a scholar in competition with Terson. Thea, played by Sarah Schettini, is beautiful in her innocence and frailty. While Hedda is conniving, Thea is all trust. Eilert, as portrayed by Hannah Neville, is the battle ground between them. Neville shows the struggle as Eilert is torn between the two worlds, one of his past chaos and the peace offered by Thea.
Judge Brack (Megan Fraedrich) is the tempting snake in the garden, and perhaps the only one to see Hedda with unfiltered gaze. Fraedrich carefully avoids the sleaze that a lesser actor would paint him with, instead choosing the more difficult path of careful opportunism.
Rounding out the main cast or Aunt Julia (Kelly Hanson) and Berta (Mandi Ellis), both endearing as the beloved aunt and the harried servant. Julia never catches on to the undercurrent of emotion and Hanson plays her as a loving aunt, easily recognized. Ellis is engaging as the slightly star-struck servant, who tries her best in the wake of Hedda.
Dan Clark has directed Hedda Gabler with careful containment. Never letting the plot overwhelm the words, and allowing the play to unfold quietly without garishness. It is simply masterful in its understatement. Clark has set the characters in motion and tells the tale. There is beauty in a tale well told and Clark achieves this.
The set makes innovative use of space and adds to the feel of controlled emotion, while the costumes quickly reveal the characters’ social standing and emotional tilt—Hedda is consistently in stark colors while Thea wears pink and flowers.
Overall, this production is a master class in how to present Ibsen with the simplicity he requires. However, if you need one reason to go see Hedda Gabler, it is this without qualification: Lori Brooks.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
Hedda Gabler plays through October 14, 2018, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 3022 Woodlawn Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the box office. Tickets are $15, and$10 for students/military/veterans.