It is fortunate that Chris Saunders, artistic director and founder of American Lives Theatre alerted me about a production of “Hedda Gabler, which he directed. Otherwise, I would have missed seeing the closing performance of the play Sunday at Theatre at the Fort in Lawrence. It would have been a regrettable loss had I missed it because the production was one of the best I have seen, thus far, in the current Indy theatre season.
Written by Henrik Ibsen, the version of “Hedda Gabler,” presented by Bardfest, was a fast paced, contemporized adaptation by Jon Roberts Batz. The play follows the life of Hedda Tessman, a general’s daughter who is married to an academic, George Tesman, whom she considers tedious. Despondent and bored with her marriage and her home, she attempts to manipulate the fate of her former lover Eilert Lovberg who is her husband’s rival. Hedda’s machinations lead to tragedy results for her and others.
Under the adroit direction of Saunders. the production was special for the quality of its acting performances, all of which were uniformly splendid. Included in the cast was Morgan Morton (Hedda), Joe Wagner (George), Matt Kraft (Eilert), Anna Himes (Thea), Clay Mabbitt (Judge Brack), Susan Hill (Miss Julia), and Carrie Reiberg (Berta).
Standing out for their nuanced and multi-faceted characterizations were Morton as spoiled, neurotic, self-absorbed Hedda, Kraft as tortured, alcoholic Eilert and Mabbitt as villainous and unscrupulous Judge Brack. The sexual assault scenes between Morton and Mabbitt, though deeply disturbing, were effective as was Kraft’s depiction of Eilert’s emotional unraveling. Saunders is to be commended for his adroit and thoughtful direction of the gifted actors in this ensemble.
I was particularly impressed with the show’s overall production design. Capturing my full attention throughout were the innovative costumes of Anthony James Sirk, a designer whom I consider one of Indy’s finest.
Speaking of local artists, I admire greatly; Saunders falls into that category. Proving himself not only a first-rate artistic director through his ALT company, he also distinguished himself as an accomplished director with this inspired and fresh new look at the classic “Hedda Gabler.”