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A CurtainUp Review

The Wild Duck
By Macey Levin

She's carefree. Like a tiny bird fluttering into life's eternal night ---Hjalmar

Erin Scanlon as Hedvig & Angela Madden as Gina
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein )
With A Doll's House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder and others, Henrik Ibsen is acknowledged as the father of modern drama. The Jean Cocteau Repertory is currently presenting one of his rarely performed plays, The Wild Duck, in an inconsistent revival.

The play is representative of Ibsen's canon: rife with a married couple's conflicts, contrasting father-son relationships, a young woman as the victim of others' false ideals, a visitor who is the catalyst for dire events, hereditary illnesses, symbolic creatures of nature. These elements, fraught with drama, become melodramatic in this translation by Rolf Fjelde.

In the play, Ibsen is critical of the Machiavellian attitude that the end justifies the means and of the superficial idealism that places principles above compassionate understanding. Hjalmar and Gina Ekdal, though financially burdened, enjoy a strong and loving relationship. They live in an attic apartment with their daughter Hedvig, on whom they dote, and Hjalmar's aged father. Several animals, including a wounded wild duck they have nurtured and rehabilitated, are kept in a room off the apartment. The wild duck carries multiple symbolic qualities representing the dynamics of the Ekdals' circumstances on various levels.

They rent a small room to Gregers Werle, Hjalmar's boyhood friend, whose father is responsible for the elder Ekdal's imprisonment and ruin. Haakon Werle, however, has provided funds and employment for the Ekdal men. Driven by the belief that he must atone for his father's sins and prove himself a worthy human being, Gregers resolves to purify the lives of those old Werle has hurt, leading to tragedy for the Ekdals. Living a floor below is the haggard Dr. Relling who, in contrast to Gregers, believes in leaving well enough alone and allowing life to be peaceful.

The major problem with the work is Fjelde's translation. Some of the dialogue does not ring true in that it sounds like the written word and not spoken communication. This creates a sense of artificiality that detracts from the intentions of the plot and the thematic concepts. A number of Greger's speeches are especially awkward, and Chad A. Suitts has not discovered how to make them sound real. Indeed, virtually his entire performance is awkward and unbalanced.

Michael Surabian as Hjalmar is stronger though he has moments when he seems tentative. Despite that, he elicits both our sympathy and disdain. The women in the play, Eileen Glenn as Mrs. Sorby, Angela Madden as Gina and Erin Scanlon's Hedvig, acquit themselves well, especially Madden. Her transition from joy and contentment to pain and despair is seamless and touching. Scanlon sometimes overplays her childishness but she is effective especially in the more telling scenes.

Though Dr. Relling is a secondary role, the stage crackles with life when Harris Berlinsky enters. His shabby appearance and dissolute life style belie the strength of his vision of life. The rest of the cast performs satisfactorily as they all attempt to bring life to some of the stilted passages.

The direction by Cocteau founder Eve Adamson is fluid and her stage pictures are interesting and well blocked. Her lighting, filled with effective shadows and area highlights, subtly complements the various tones and events of the play. Fighting the long and narrow playing space, Robert Klingelhoefer's set is simple and utilitarian.

It should be noted that at this preview performance there was a large school group whose behavior was distracting to this reviewer, other audience members and, undoubtedly, the cast. They laughed at inappropriate times, whispered continuously (one of them was evidently on a phone several times throughout the play) and ate noisy snacks. That, however, does not mitigate the flaws of the translation.

To read a review of another production of this play go here

THE WILD DUCK Written by Henrik Ibsen
Translation by Rolf Fjelde
Directed by Eve Adamson
Cast: Sara Jeanne Asselin, Harris Berlinsky, Danaher Dempsey, Bill Fairbairn, Eileen Glenn, Allen Hale, Angela Madden, Tim Morton, Erin Scanlon, Chad A Suitts, Michael Surabian, Dan Zisson
Scenic Design: Robert Klingelhoefer
Costume Design: Margaret A. McKowen and Joel Ebarb
Lighting Design: Eve Adamson
Sound Design and Original Music: Ellen Mandell
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, (one intermission)
Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery, 212-677-0060, ext. 16
2/20/04-5/20/04; opening: 2/2912/04 Wed. at 7pm; Thurs-Sat at 8pm & Sun at 3 pm; $15-50
Reviewed by Macey Levin based on February 26 press performance

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