March 5 2009 12:00 AM

MSUs Hedda Gabler marred by poor acting

Is there a more overrated femme fatale in the history of Western theater than Hedda Gabler? It seems doubtful. But the MSU Theatre Department, in collaboration with Williamston Theatre, is offering you a chance to decide for yourself with its production of Henrik Ibsen’s " Hedda Gabler."

Unlike the pre-feminist heroine Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” Gabler is nothing more than a narcissistic depressive who evokes little sympathy for herself or her selfserving suicide. Tony Caselli, Williamston’s artistic director, takes a brave stab at re-defining this play, suggesting in liner notes that Gabler, with no options for a fulfilling life, chooses a “glorious ending.” There’s an attempt at spin.

As for the production, blocking in this play is perfectly orchestrated. Caselli moves his actors back and forth across the stage and up and down long flights of stairs with precision and balance. Amber Marisa Cook costumes the women exquisitely in period pieces. Brian Adams’ sound design is enchantingly discordant, and Justin Miller’s set is expansive, with an upstairs library of magnificent bookshelves and more volumes than one can count in the 90-or-more-minute wait for this play to end.

The central problem is with the actors. Characters need to have characteristics, and in this production, nothing much separates one role from another. Lines are articulated, but emotion, when present, doesn’t appear to float beyond the immediate distance between the players. Midway through Act 1, the pace slows and the book counting begins.

The men in the show, playing two academics and a judge, come across primarily as the young, cherubic students they are offstage. Dave Wendelberger, as Hedda’s husband Tesman; and Rusty Broughton, as Hedda’s former love Lovburg, project two nerdy professors more excited about their journals and manuscripts than any profs this critic ever encountered. Phil Ashbrook, as Brack, is supposed to be dark, devious and coercive. Instead, Ashbrook’s Brack is soft and boyish.

As for the women, Kristen Barrett’s characterization of Hedda Gabler is more adolescent pout than existential angst. Jacyln Hofmann, in the small role of Tesman’s Aunt Julia, opens the play with well-crafted, breathless enthusiasm. Michelle Meredith, in the miniscule role of the housekeeper Berta, moves on and off stage with a 2 determined The Dead intention Feb 18 that & 25 makes her character seem more real than any other.

‘Hedda Gabler’

Feb. 28 7:30 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m. Friday 2 p.m.
Saturday Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre, MSU $12.50 1 (800) WHARTON

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