5 March 2004: Ibsen, Hedda Gabler

Amherst College Theatre Department. B.A. thesis production directed by — I find I have left the tell-tale program behind in my haste to exit at the intermission. Ah, well. An unknown author left unnamed on the program but very likely Henrik Ibsen.

The publicity did not explain that this was a thesis production, and I had hoped the director would be a faculty member who could work more effect­ively than could a fellow student with undergraduate actors earnestly essaying this subtle and profound play. None of the acting was truly bad, but the Judge Brack only looked the part and was far too stiff and solemn to act the role. The Hedda, a quite beautiful and strikingly tall young woman with cascades of blonde hair piled up on her head in sumptuous curls had her moments, but she had not been shown how to put her arms around this lost soul and find her inner life. Perhaps the actor with the most talent — not saying a lot, with this cohort of inex­perienced students, but saying something — was the Tesman; he had a nice, easy affability and the sincerity that was right for the role. But he was not much over five feet tall, and alongside the statuesque Hedda he was grotesquely out of place. To do them credit, the actors had been well rehearsed; they knew their lines and kept the pace going reasonably well. But by the end of the second act, it was all too clear that this production was not going to rise above this earnest, pedestrian level, and I decided to cut my losses and come home.

It may be that the director managed to make great strides to bring his actors to even this modest level of competence; I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I would have thought the faculty supervisor, whom the director thanks munificently in the program, might have pointed out how to do such things as emphasize plot lines (it is better if you know the play pretty well before you attend this production). And there is really no excuse for leaving out of the program essential information such as the name of the author, the time and setting of the play, the translation used, and the year — not just the month and days — of the production. A faculty advisor’s job is, among other things, to bring students out of their provincial insularity and show them some useful profession­al standards. Plays are important, and it’s important to give them their fully ident­ifiable face before the community of theatergoers. The assumption seems to have been that everyone knows everyone else, including the author, and so the only important information to impart is cast, designers, crew, and advisors. There is a wider world, though, nonetheless; and if the students are not aware of that fact, at least the faculty advisor should be.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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