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Drama done two ways elicits differing responses

Unique retellings prove playwright's longevity, relevance

★★★★1/2 out of five  - Jill Wilson, Winnipeg Free Press

Dalnavert, the historic 1895 mansion, is the perfect setting for Echo Theatre’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, a version set in the 1950s by Winnipeg translator/playwright Per Brask.

The fussy, flower-filled formal parlour is an apt representation of the life newlywed Hedda (Charlene Van Buekenhout) finds herself trapped in as she returns from her six-month honeymoon with Jorgen Tesman (Ian Bastin), who spent much of their romantic holiday doing research.

Tom Keenan plays Eilert Lovborg alongside Charlene Van Buekenhout's Hedda Gabler in Echo Theatre's version.

In this iconic role, Van Buekenhout delivers a wonderful, complicated performance. Casually cruel and seemingly blasé, her Hedda’s a beautiful mean girl who presumed she’d end up with more than a doting doofus of a husband and stultifying life in a mausoleum of a mansion. (The actress is also pregnant, which adds a twist to the oft-debated notion that Hedda is with child but in denial.)

When her former schoolmate Thea Elvsted (Alissa Watson) brings word that the dissipated Eilert Lovborg (Tom Keenan) — an academic rival of Jorgen’s and a former dalliance of Hedda’s — is back in town, you can see the scheming wheels begin turning in her head, though it’s not clear what her endgame is, other than using what power she has to wreak havoc and amuse herself.

The rest of the local cast — directed by Ray Strachan — ably matches Van Buekenhout’s performance. Ross McMillan portrays Judge Brack with an avuncular charm that oozes lasciviousness. Watson’s nervous, lovestruck Thea is a delight to watch, her face lighting up when she sees the dissipated Eilert, whom Keenan gives a desperate sadness.

It’s a vicious, witty 95-minute (no intermission) production that shows why the ambiguous Hedda continues to inspire analysis and interpretation.

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