REVIEW: Gamm’s spellbinding “Hedda Gabler” not to be missed

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Marianna Bassham stars as Hedda Gabler in The Gamm Theatre’s “Hedda Gabler.” Photo by Peter Goldberg.


 

By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News

Marianna Bassham as the title character in Gamm’s “Hedda Gabler” is a true gift.

The new adaptation of the famous Henrik Ibsen play is a delight, a perfect combination of raw drama, dark comedy and pure entertainment. It’s really what theater is all about.

Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella shows off his prowess here, having adapted the script perfectly for a modern audience and corralled his masterful cast under his keen-eyed direction. The show plays out like a soap opera should: pawing incessantly at all your emotions without all the melodrama.

Lead by Bassham, the cast brings the audience along on Hedda’s journey, a dark one through the oft-unexplored passageways of the 1880’s housewife’s psyche. Hedda is smart, she’s sexy, she’s fun…but she’s also tormented by demons. Bassham plays the role with such nuance, such complexity…it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

Joe Short co-stars as her affable new husband, Gerorge Tesman, a voracious academic whose dripping sweet disposition does nothing for Hedda. Short is perfect as the light to Hedda’s darkness, the laughter to her cries.

Jim O’Brien is Judge Brack, the guest who pops over uninvited for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never seems to have anyplace else to be. He’s responsible for Hedda’s ultimate undoing, but never seems to be aware just how close to the edge he’s pushing her.

Alexander Platt plays Eilert Lovborg with a crackling intensity. Now sober, Lovborg enters the play as a reborn man with a promising writing career that makes Tesman green with envy. Lovborg’s “muse” is Thea Elvsted, the good nature, naïve and somewhat pitiful housewife played beautifully by Karen Carpenter.

The cast is rounded out by Katie Travers, who injects quite a few laughs as Berta, the maid whose name Hedda can never quite commit to memory, and Marya Lowry, Tesman’s loving and aging Aunt Juliana.

On a terrific set by Michael McGarty, “Hedda Gabler” plays out like a movie, moving at a deliberate and  swift pace. I don’t often find myself wanting to see a play multiple times, but this one could be devoured over and over again. The Gamm’s “Hedda Gabler” has secured itself a spot alongside my favorite theatrical productions. Be sure not to miss it.

 “Hedda Gabler” plays now through November 30 at The Gamm Theatre on Exchange Street in Pawtucket. For tickets and information, click here.