Go Ahead, Hedda
Posted By: Amanda Farrell-Low
06/02/2010 8:00 AM
Inconnu sets Ibsen’s classic in the not-too-distant future
Hedda Gabler is getting under Casey Austin’s skin—or is Austin getting under Gabler’s? Talking to Austin about her upcoming performance in the role that has been described as the female Hamlet, it’s difficult to tell.
“My first impression of Hedda was that she was cruel and without a lot of dimension to the cruelty,” says Austin, who first read Henrik Ibsen’s 1890 play of the same name several years ago. “I didn’t know why she was cruel; my impression was that she just wanted to be spiteful and hurt people around her because she herself was unhappy . . . Since working on the character, I’ve come to really identify with her and it frightens me a little bit, honestly. I don’t think I’m a cruel person, I don’t think I’m spiteful and vindictive in the ways that Hedda can be, but I do identify with her values.”
The play, which tells the story of how its title character, a newly wed general’s daughter, sabotages the lives of those around her as she attempts to advance herself, is getting a futuristic treatment courtesy of Theatre Inconnu’s Graham McDonald—and also gets the pleasure of breaking in Inconnu’s newly renovated space at 1923 Fernwood Road. McDonald, who has directed past Inconnu productions such as The Pillowman and The Caretaker, has adapted the play to set it in September, 2012—three months before the end of the Mayan calendar and what some believe to be the end of civilization. He’s also cast Hedda and her new husband, George Tesman, and her former love interest and husband’s rival, Ejlert Løvborg, as radical environmentalists as opposed to academics.
“We all went through the millennium and all the hype and fear that was propagated around that—and all the merchandise that was sold and everything was about the turn of the millennium and the possible end of the world,” says McDonald. “I can’t help but think that’s what we’re heading for in 2012, a lot of that fear mongering—and the fear mongering not being based around the actual realities that could actually end the world, like environmental disaster or manmade catastrophes.”
Austin says she first heard that McDonald was planning to do the audition when he was directing the Vancouver run of Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, in which Austin played (and garnered an M award nomination for) the central role of Nawal. McDonald planned on doing Hedda Gabler 2012CE in the fall, but Austin, who will be moving to New York to do her Masters degree in theatre arts at Columbia, asked if he’d consider doing it sooner so she could audition for the lead role.
“She reread it that week in Vancouver that we opened and started putting the pressure on me to do that first,” says McDonald, who was also working on an adaptation of Woyzeck, Georg Büchner’s unfinished play, set in post-apocolyptic 2037, which he hopes to mount near the end of this year.
For Austin, the opportunity to play Gabler was one she couldn’t pass up. “It’s an incredible honour just to be able to do it,” she says. “[Gabler] has got so many layers, it’s just fascinating . . . I’ve had the opportunity to work with Graham, who is fantastic, and to bring all these different emotions and thoughts behind it, and what she shows to the people around her and what she doesn’t show and all those layers, it’s a real dream.”
One of the challenges of bringing Hedda Gabler into the 21st century is that social norms have changed dramatically; something like Gabler talking back to her husband or having dinner alone with a man wouldn’t be as big a deal today as it was in 1890. But Austin says the new time period makes discovering motivations for Gabler’s behaviour more interesting. “Being that it’s set in the future, it creates a more complex choice for the modern Hedda because she’s making that choice when she could very well be involved—and that decision has to come from somewhere,” she says. “Hedda’s got a lot of issues with physical proximity and demands upon her psyche and upon her body.”
McDonald, who will be participating in director Q&A;sessions after every performance of Hedda Gabler 2012CE, says he’s enjoying writing more these days, but isn’t in a position to write full-time—hence the adaptations.
“I think every show that I’ve done in the last five years, I’ve adapted in some way—which, if the writer were to find out, they might come and beat me up,” he says. “I take as much as I can. It’s trying not to be afraid, to just push it as hard as you can and adaptation is the best way to do that. You go by your own rules, your own vision—and you take all the blame if it doesn’t work.”