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Aux Dog’s ‘Hedda’ a powerful production

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Aux Dog Theatre has opened another fine production. Sheridan Kay Johnson and Brennen Foster, who brought “Venus in Fur” to brilliant life, are part of a strong ensemble cast in Henrik Ibsen’s classic study of repression and manipulation, “Hedda Gabler.” Director Jessica Osbourne has wisely chosen to use the new English version of Ibsen’s 19th century Norwegian text by Irish playwright Brian Friel. And she has set the play in 1962 Massachusetts.

The play begins with Hedda and her academic husband George Tesman returning from a six-month honeymoon where George gathered material for his arcane research. Hedda is the beautiful daughter of General Gabler whose portrait dominates a wall of their new home. Hedda settled for the “stable and dependable” (and utterly boring) George who constantly marvels at his matrimonial coup.

Characters from the couple’s past come and go. Bertha, the maid, and Aunt Juliana have raised George and are part of a Tesman family Hedda wishes to avoid.

Judge Brack has carried on a flirtation with Hedda and is ready for a more licentious relationship. Eilert Loevberg, a brilliant but dissolute scholar, went to school with George and was a confidant of Hedda’s. She vicariously savored Eilert’s debauchery but lacked the courage to risk scandal. Eilert, however, has been redeemed from depravity by the love of simple Thea Elvsted whom Hedda used to bully in school.

The Ibsen/Friel text presents an intricate plot and complex characters that are convincingly portrayed on stage. Veteran Alaina Warren Zachary projects Aunt Juliana’s warmth and generosity. As Judge Brack, Daniel Caimi takes awhile to get into his character, but he conveys the sexual danger in his character’s teasing banter with Hedda.

Ron Weisberg simply IS Eilert Loevberg. From his curly hair, beard, and penetrating eyes to his leather jacket and ankle boots he epitomizes the 1960s intellectual genius never far from self-destruction. Weisberg’s performance is masterful. Evening Star Barron powerfully conveys Thea’s timid, anxious past and her joy at refashioning Eilert. Yet Thea is helpless when Hedda turns on her.

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Brennan Foster is wonderful as the upright, kind, caring, and clueless George. With his pencil moustache and horn-rimmed glasses, Foster’s George is an academic drudge so pure of heart, guileless, and downright decent that you just want to shake him.

Best of all is Sheridan Kay Johnson’s Hedda. Johnson delivers her lines with pauses and emphases that render them modern and accessible. Her Hedda is constantly adapting her delivery, gestures, and facial expressions to her situation, and she is fully involved when not speaking. I have seen this play many times, but this is the first Hedda Gabler who actually frightened me! Another “rave” review.

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