By Stephanie Ottey
Henrik Ibsen, known for authoring “A Doll’s House” (among other great works), is one of the most prominent writers in theater history. With a focus on society and the hidden truths of gender roles, Ibsen creates complex characters in all of his works. “Hedda Gabler,” currently playing on the Kent Trumbull stage, is one of his most notable plays.
Directed by Dr. Daniel Raymond Nadon, “Hedda Gabler” tells the story of a newlywed woman who, although highly unsatisfied with her life, is unable to express her disdain because of the confines of the society in which she lives.
To ease her own misery, Hedda secretly manipulates those around her into suffering, while she sadistically relishes in the subtle power she wields.
The audience is first introduced to Hedda Gabler through the eyes of George Tesman, Hedda’s new husband, and his Aunt Julia. Joseph Toto and Donnagene Palmer fill the roles and begin the show with a naturalness that is inviting.
Palmer’s sincerity as Aunt Julia is unexpected. The role could easily be turned into a caricature, but Palmer approaches it with a gentleness that keeps it grounded.
Joseph Toto’s portrayal of Tesman is equally genuine. Toto reveals a thoroughly developed character through natural reactions to minor hiccups. He builds a Tesman that is calm, nonchalant, attentive and polite whether the character is actively taking part in a scene or not. Clearly connected to and familiar with his role, Toto is an absolute highlight of this production.
A supporting cast of characters helps to further reveal the complexities of Hedda Gabler’s character.
Noelle Bowles’ Mrs. Elvstead is the perfect target for Hedda’s deception. Elvstead is vulnerable and worried in the hands of Bowles. Her performance is soft and quiet, and unfortunately, hard to hear at times as there is no vocal amplification in this production.
Larry Ciferno approaches Judge Brack with a contemporary style that doesn’t match the tone of his castmates, but does not detract from his performance either. As he reveals a snide, manipulative side of Judge Brack, he also reveals the weak, naive side of Hedda.
Jim Canacci delivers a colorful and likable Eilert Lovborg, peer to Tesman and Hedda’a ex-lover. Through Lovborg, Hedda’s manipulative side is thoroughly revealed. Canacci is a strong addition to the production.
Pat Rogan’s bit as Berta, Hedda’s maid, is also lovely. Remaining on stage to tidy (and nap) during intermission, Rogan keeps the audiance engaged between acts.
With all of these strong supporters, it’s no surprise that Pamela Wilterdink, who currently lives in New York, has come home to Warren to fill the role of Hedda. Wilterdink carries herself gracefully and speaks clearly, proving that she understands the basics of stage acting, but she misses the mark in fully developing and expressing her psychologically complex character. Wilterdink’s calculated delivery of lines and movement suggest that she is acting, but with no clear inner monologue playing behind her eyes, and no communication of motivation to the audience, it’s hard to believe she’s connected to the multiple facets of Hedda Gabler.
Though the script is outstanding, the cast is strong, and the costumes designed by Carol Caronite are beautifully made, the set designed by Tony E. Kovacic is especially stunning. Skeletons of ornately decorated walls allow the audience to see multiple rooms of the Tesman home, and thus watch the behaviors of its inhabitants when normally they would be offstage. This leaves an extraordinarily large canvas for the performers to create on, and further invites the audience to know the characters. This cleverness, with beautiful colors, intricate decorations, elegant period furniture and flawless execution prove that Kovacic is one of the best local set designers.
Performances of “Hedda Gabler” are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday at Kent Trumbull Theatre, 4314 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren. For information and tickets, call 330-675-8833.