Some of L.A.’s finest stage stars take center stage in Andrew Upton’s 2002 version of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and while the age-blind casting of most of the play’s lead roles proves problematic, the Antaeus Company’s latest partner-cast revival nonetheless offers Los Angeles theatergoers some of the finest acting in town.
Before All About Eve gave us Eve Harrington and Dynasty introduced the world to Alexis Carrington and Mean Girls took us into the 21st-century with Regina George, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen created the brazen hussy that started it all way back in 1890.
Meet the beautiful, selfish, conniving Hedda (Nike Doukas and Jaimi Paige) and her milquetoast hubby Tesman (JD Cullum and Adrian LaTourelle), just back from a six-month European honeymoon which must have cost Hedda’s professor-wannabe hubby a pretty penny.
The newlyweds may have moved into an elegant, pricey home thanks in part to Tesman’s elderly aunt Julie (Lynn Milgrim and Amelia White), but that doesn’t seem to make Hedda any happier about being married to a fuddy-duddy like Tesman.
The former Miss Gabler, meanwhile, continues to carry a torch for the dashing Ejlart (Daniel Blinkoff and Ned Mochel), who’s gone from drunk to teetotaler thanks to the love of a good woman, Hedda’s onetime classmate Thea (Kwana Martinez and Ann Noble), whose children he’s been tutoring.
A 1920s setting gives this Hedda Gabler a new look and sound while still allowing Her Majesty Queen Bitch Hedda to remain every bit as frustrated with her life as she was in the play’s original 1890s setting and every bit as committed to making those around her as miserable as is inhumanly possible.
Still, with the exception of the absolutely stunning Paige, director Steven Robman has made casting choices that test one’s ability to buy the play’s leads as men and women just starting out in life, and while every theatergoing experience requires a certain suspension of disbelief, try as I might this time round, I found it difficult to suspend mine.
That being said, it’s hard to fault the power and depth and individualized touches of the work being done by Amendola, Blinkoff, Cullum, Dennehy, Doukas, Flaathen, LaTourelle, Martinez, Milgrim, Mochel, Noble, Paige, Sutorius, and White, appearing in “dueling” casts (the Generals and the Pistols) on Saturdays and Sundays and “shaken and stirred” into multiple permutations (The Fjords) on Thursdays and Fridays, all part of The Antaeus Company’s trademark partner casting.
Se Hyun Oh’s elegant, gauze-curtained set, Leah Piehl’s mostly 1920s-appropriate costumes, Leigh Allen’s alternately delicate and dramatic lighting, Erin Walley’s just-right props (with special snaps for pistol, gramophone, and manuscripts), and Cricket S. Myers’ era-setting sound design (‘20s ditties playing in the background) are all topnotch.
Kristin Weber is production stage manager and wardrobe mistress. Ricka Fisher is assistant director. Adam Meyer is production manager.
Additional program credits are shared by Lena Sands (costume associate), Beryl Brachmann (costume assistant), Grayson Stamps (assistant stage manager), A. Jeffrey Schoenberg (draper), Rene Parras Jr. (assistant technical director), and Orlando de la Paz (scenic painter).
Ultimately, Hedda at Anateus leaves this reviewer torn between the desire to rave about performances and the wish that more believable casting choices had been made for the play’s under-35 characters.
The Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
June 3, 2106
Photos: Karianne Flaathen (Generals), Facet Photography (Pistols)