This past weekend, the Kenyon College Players (KCP) performed Hedda Gabler, a play by Henrik Ibsen, as translated by Patrick Marber. Directed by Anna Hampton ’22, KCP held the show in the Harlene Marley Black Box Theater from Oct. 21-23.
Hedda Gabler tells the story of a newly married woman attempting to puppet her husband and his friends out of a craving for domestic control. Hedda, played by Charlotte Schultz ’23, is abrasive and often rude, unhappy with her harsh transition from living recklessly to becoming a housewife. Hedda’s life is thrown into disarray when a past lover and competing colleague of her husband’s, Eilert Lovborg (played by Gus Reale ’23), appears. Over the course of the play, she slowly loses all power that she possessed and ends up shooting herself, leaving the audience questioning whether her death was an attempt to regain control, or an attempt to completely submit herself to the former objects of her manipulations.
Hedda Gabler had its first performance in Munich in 1891, and since then has been produced around the world and adapted for the screen multiple times. It is famous for being an early feminist play, although there is discourse around whether or not this was the intent of the piece. Regardless, it is a story that raises questions about the quality of human nature.
The director’s note on the back of the program explains the significance of the play, highlighting themes of power and influence. “This production aims to hone in on the interiority/exteriority of social conditions, putting them on display alongside their devolving effects on the mind. On the outside, cleanliness and smoothness – a thin veil over the rotting underneath,” Hampton wrote.
The play takes place in the living room of Hedda and her husband (played by William Newhart ’24). The set design was simple, with a small seating area on stage right, and a piano upstage center, where much of the focus was. Because of the Black Box Theater’s limited size, the audience was so close to the stage that it was almost as if they were sitting in the living room themselves. Hedda often walked through the aisle to the back of the audience as if looking through a window, furthering the illusion that to watch the play was to be fully present in the day-to-day life of Hedda Gabler.
Schultz’s performance as Hedda was particularly strong. She took an approach to the role that fixed all attention on herself: She took up space on stage and spoke loudly, contrasting Newhart’s more reserved performance as her husband. Raya Kenney ’25, cast as Mrs. Elvsted, brought energy to her role and was consistently engaged even in moments when she was in the background. Brack, the villain of the play next to Hedda Gabler herself, was played by Donald Long ’22, who brought a subtle sarcasm to the role. All in all, everyone did well to capture the dynamic and make every character worth watching. There were moments in which parts of the show were invisible to the back of the audience given the size of the theater, but the show went smoothly otherwise.
KCP’s Hedda Gabler really shined, with every part of the production team embracing the period with costuming and set design. The positive dynamic of the cast was obvious, and it was a captivating show for the sold-out audience.