By company dancer Connie Flachs
We continue our series of introductions to the famously strong female characters of playwright Henrik Ibsen that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Here we are introduced to Hedda Gabler from the 1890 four-act play. Hedda Gabler is among Ibsen’s most famous works. It would be diminutive to describe this play as a drama about a housewife: The title alone demonstrates Hedda’s reluctance to assimilate into her husband’s family. Instead she clings to her aristocratic background. Hedda appears powerful but has little true agency. She strives, through manipulation and desperate acts, to influence the other humans in her midst. The play examines the struggle for existential meaning within societal boundaries as well as explores the neuroses of the human psyche.
The sound of gunshots catches you off-guard as you approach the newly purchased, stylish manor of Professor Tesman (played by company dancer Steven Houser). You don’t often come to this refined part of town, but he had asked you to meet him to go over a recent homework assignment. You wonder how he affords this home on the modest salary of a research fellow. Not to mention his recent six month extravaganza of a honeymoon. Rumors say his wife Hedda Gabler (played by company dancer Cassidy Isaacson) – now Hedda Tesman – demanded the trip. Perhaps as a reparation for marrying below her means? Some had believed the daughter of the famous general would never settle on a husband. You’ve spent many hours snickering with your peers over the absurdity of the match between Tesman’s earnest but exasperating bluster and Hedda’s class and glamour.
Another gunshot snaps you out of your reverie. The door to the manor swings open and the maids ushers you in to the expansive and beautifully decorated drawing room where Hedda herself sits, polishing a pistol, surrounded by fragrant bouquets.
“The professor will be down shortly. Hedda will entertain you as you wait,” she informs you, and scurries off.
“Welcome,” Hedda says, fixing you with a piercing gaze. “Please sit down.” You make a move towards the chair furthest from the gun she still holds.
“Oh, not there, please. Sit closer to me.” She pats the sofa next to her. You sit, tentatively, close enough to notice that every ten seconds or so her placid profile is marred by a twitch of the eye.
“So, Tesman tells me you’ve been incredibly helpful in his latest research. You may even be part of the reason he has nearly secured his promotion. I suppose I must thank you for your contribution to my husband’s work.” You nod, mutely.
“Well, I expect you used all your words on the research paper.” Hedda sighs disdainfully and rises to place the gun back in its display case. She stays by the window, gazing blankly out.
“The flowers you have here are beautiful,” you babble nervously to fill the silence. “Gifts, I expect? To celebrate the marriage of two souls newly in love?”
“HA!” Hedda snorts, and then regains her composure so quickly you are left wondering if you imagined the exclamation.
“Some do call it love…” she responds vaguely. “But lets talk about you. What do you busy yourself with? Riding? That was a favorite past time of mine as a child. The freedom of it! Or perhaps shooting? Another favorite.”
“No, no. I don’t care for that at all.” You shrink from her, hoping it’s imperceptible.
“Nonsense!” She says cheerily, her eyes suddenly gleaming. “You’ll love it. Here!” She retrieves the gun and places it in your hands, standing over you. “See? Do you feel the sense of control? Doesn’t it feel powerful?”
“Hedda!” The professor’s voice rings from the corridor. “What are up to with our guest?” You breathe a sigh of relief as Hedda removes the gun from your grip.
“We were just experimenting, George. Something a little out of the ordinary. Something of interest. For once.”
“Ahh, my Hedda. Isn’t she lovely, uh?” He moves to kiss her cheek and misses as she pulls away and returns to her post at the window. “Ah, well… Now, come to my study, we’ll talk about that paper.”
He ushers you into his room. Before the door closes you turn to catch a glimpse of this stunning and frightening woman. She stands straight and poised, a picture of elegance apart from her arms, crossed in front of her chest, fingers clenched and nails digging into the flesh beneath her fine dress, as though fighting against a visceral scream.
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