Dave and I saw Hedda Gabler at the American Conservatory Theater last Friday. It’s a wonderful production when the set gets out of the way of the actors — which is most of the time, fortunately. The set, representing the Tesmans’ living room, is simple and attractive, but unfortunately it is framed in a lot of exposed steel scaffolding, and now and then an actor or three will climb the steel stairs and cross the stage high on the catwalk pretending to be hurrying down the street or having a drink at Commissioner Brack’s party or something. The point of the scaffolding was obscure to me, as it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the look of the rest of the set or with the mood or themes of the play. And interpolating bits of unnecessary action that make use of the scaffolding only serves to call attention to it. Which is of course the point; once you’ve made the directorial decision to have all of this extraneous stuff on stage, you have to use it for something to try to justify its existence and integrate it into the rest of the production. It didn’t work for me.
However, all the real action takes place in the Tesmans’ living room, where it should, and so it’s easy enough most of the time to ignore the rest of the set. And the performances are excellent. René Augesen is terrific and striking, maybe the most striking Hedda I’ve seen. She makes very vivid in her manner and actions Hedda’s desperate, petulant, resentful boredom, the urge that keeps coming over her to do something, anything, however destructive to herself or others it might be, just to break the monotony. You really don’t want to see this woman playing with guns. Also wonderful: Jack Willis as Commissioner Brack. Dave and I both thought he was a standout as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Ben in The Little Foxes and he stood out again in this.