“This is not Hedda of the 1890s, this is Hedda in the modern world,” said Kitt Marsh, who played Berta the maid in Miami Theatre Center’s (MTC) production of “Hedda Gabler,” to a group of 30 University of Miami theare students after the show on Sunday as an informal field trip.
Unfortunately, this update of Henrik Ibsen’s nineteenth century classic lost its simmering intensity in favor of casual twenty-first century disconnect.
“This is a rarely produced play, in this town especially, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to see it,” said theatre professor, Chris O’Connor.
The students not only watched the performance, but also participated in a post-show discussion with the cast, which ranged from rehearsal anecdotes to in-depth details about craft and artistic approach.
The cast recounted the experience of rehearsing for an extended amount of time, an almost-unheard of eight weeks, before opening night– six days a week for eight hours a day.
“The beginning was…a lot of ensemble building exercises, getting to know each other,” said Gregg Weiner, who played Hedda’s husband George Tesman.“We did an hour and twenty of movement every single day.”
But this extensive rehearsal process, in which the actors practiced on-set and in costume for a remarkable six weeks, was unable to keep the production afloat; indeed, it appeared to have stifled organic artistic exploration.
Over and over again, the actors referenced a very strong creative vision driving the work. The production design was unquestionably stunning, particularly the stark white, two-story set furnished with striking minimalism, which immediately set the show outside of time.
Extensive use of musical underscoring, designed by Luciano Stazzone, dictated the pacing and mood of most scenes. This proved to be a blessing and a curse, as the actors often allowed the music to do the acting for them, coasting through tense moments without truly experiencing them to create genuine moments.
This nonchalant approach to the performance seems to have occurred as a result of an overly rigid vision for the show, both adapted and directed by Stephanie Ansin; it left little room for the cast to bring their own perspective to their characters.
The cast described the struggle of inhabiting their roles while every moment was precisely timed to the background music.
“Here you are trying to create a character, but in the back of your mind, and this was true for all of us, we’re listening for certain sounds, we’re listening for certain beats of music that we come in on and that we say lines on,” Marsh said.
The music was practically an invisible scene partner, to the detriment of authentic listening and reacting between characters onstage. Tellingly, Paul Tei, who played Hedda’s former lover, admitted that “if it wouldn’t have been there, I would feel lost.”
Jessica Farr, who depicted the titular Hedda, summed up her character as “someone who doesn’t have the courage to be who she could be…she’s a caged animal.”
Disappointingly, that statement also proved to be an apt description of MTC’s production as a whole. Hedda Gabler is due for an adaptation which delves into its complex relationship dynamics and wrenches Ibsen’s script out of traditional nineteenth century melodrama. Unfortunately, this performance only skimmed the surface of its potential.
IF YOU GO
What: “Hedda Gabler”
Where: Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE 2nd Ave, Miami Shores, FL 33138
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 16
For more information, call 305-751-9550 or visit mtcmiami.org.