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An original desperate housewife

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Long before the women’s movement, Henrik Ibsen wrote “Hedda Gabler,” a story of a woman stifled by her choices and unable to break free of the gender-imposed roles of the late 19th century.

Billed as the “original desperate housewife with a fetish for guns,” actor Sheridan Johnson, who plays the title role, says the play is an “exploration of how people express their need for freedom. Her obstacles seem out of place in our modern world.”

Johnson says she’s excited about the role, “one of the biggest challenges a female actor can tackle in world of theater.”

Director Jessica Osbourne set the play, a recent version by Irish dramatist Brian Friel, in Boston in the late 1950s or early 1960s because social roles for women then were still limited mostly to wife and mother, with a few exceptions for teachers and nurses.

“Women still felt like they should marry or they had to depend on a man financially,” Osbourne said.

Hedda Gabler is a reluctant older bride, unable to support herself after the untimely death of her father, a military general. She returns home dissatisfied after a long honeymoon with her predictable, academic husband.

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She foresees a boring life of tedious convention as a middle-class housewife, until a chance reunion stirs up a lethal cocktail of unrequited love, smoldering passions and jealousy leading to tragedy, Osbourne explains.

The Friel version of the play, making its regional debut at the Aux Dog, adds more humor to the characters than the original Ibsen play, she says.

“Not everything in life is always dramatic. Brian Friel takes us on a roller coaster of emotions.”

She says the ultimate tragedy of the play is buffered by the humor: “The comedy opens you up to receive the other emotions. It unlocks that part of you.”

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