Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2017’

Britney Frazier Is Hedda Gabler. Photo By Liz Olson 2 2 E1485408003791

Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler.  Written by Henrik Ibsen.  Directed by Yury Urnov. Cutting Ball Theatre, 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA.

Cutting Ball’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of dramatic form is on brilliant display in Yury Urnov’s groundbreaking production of Ibsen’s most revered play. Centering on one of theatre’s most disturbing protangonists, a willful woman caught between suffocating boredom and the excitement of a fresh kill, Urnov has re-imagined Hedda not as the quiet stalker whose words never quite convey their actual intent into a bold, obvious vixen with larceny in her every action. The director has also wonderfully distilled the action and dialogue down to its barest essentials eliminating some unneeded exposition.  Combined with an excellent cast, fine lighting by Hamilton Guillen, beautiful costuming by Alina Bokovikova and a stunning set design by Jacquelyn Scott, Urnov may have created the gold standard for future productions to come.

Britney Frazier (Hedda) and Steve Thomas (Commissioner Brack). Photo by Liz Olson.

Quite different from previous standard productions, the pared down plot plays itself out like a telenovela and gathered quite a decent amount of laughs for its sheer outrageousness. Hedda, freshly returned from her honeymoon and pregnant,  is already exuding boredom and disdain for both her house staff and husband. Reminiscent of Martha is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hedda suffers no fools and although she wanted  the secure life , she’s itching for more. Enter old flame Eljert, a former alcoholic, with a sensational new novel he’s written and a new beau Thea. Hedda toys with both and when she inadvertently gets her hands on the manuscript, destroys it and provides Eljert with a pistol to finish himself off. When he does, and Commissioner Brack tracks the pistol back to Hedda, the threat of being under his blackmail control and the resulting scandal are too much for Hedda to bear. Its all acted with a heightened mania by the talented cast.

Set amongst a series of movable double doors that represent wall dividers and hanging floral bocquets, Urnov’s characters all wear elements of gardening attire: rubber boots, aprons, goggles, gloves and tool belts. Heidi Carlsen as Juliane Tesman arms herself with a three-clawed weeder, Francisco Arcila’s Jorgen Tesman wields a sharp pruning shear, and Kunal Prasad as Ejlert Lovborg carries an enormous pitchfork. They tie into a set design ringed by large flower pots and could represent  Hedda’s need to manipulate her surroundings. Cliff Caruthers’ eclectic sound design eases the maneuvering of the door panels and space transitions with unusual material like Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, “Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and the 1960’s pop hit “Build Me A Buttercup”.

Carla Pauli (Thea Elstead) and Britney Frazier (Hedda). Photo by Liz Olson

Carla Pauli (Thea Elstead) and Britney Frazier (Hedda). Photo by Liz Olson

Britney Frazier is amazing in the title role. This is not the nuanced performance of say an Ingrid Bergman, who used her eyes and facial expressions to indicate emotion. Frazier is assured and confident in her actions, using Ibsen’s words to slice and dice her opponents. She laughs openly at her ineffectual husband Jorgen, makes her housekeeper Berte tremble, puts the lustful Commissioner Brack under her thumb and destroys the happiness and lives of her past lover Ejldert and his girlfriend Thea (played wonderfully by Carla Pauli). Steve Thomas has an actor’s field day, allowed to chew up his scenes with exaggerated abandon. At first weak and easily manipulated, he turns out to be the only weapon that can take Hedda down in the beautifully staged finale.

At 75 minutes, the play moves quickly enough to satisfy those with ADD, yet still retains Ibsen’s vital plot essentials. Urnov has brought a 21st century breath of new life into Ibsen’s 1891 classic. Commissioner Brack has the famous last line that nullifies Hedda’s grand suicide – “Good God!–people don’t do such things.” Believe me, they do.

Performances run through February 26th, 2017.  415.525.1205