Encore Michigan

Hedda Gabler is once, twice, three times a lady at Slipstream

Review January 25, 2016 Jenn McKee

Baby, it’s cold outside? Please. When you’re staging Hedda Gabler, baby, it’s even colder inside.

HEDDA-GABLER--SLIPSTREAMA new, arresting, streamlined adaptation on Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama is now on stage at Ferndale’s Slipstream Theatre. The title character, played by three women (Kaitlyn Valor Bourque, Luna Alexander, and Tiaja Sabrie), is newly, if not ecstatically, married to a young academic, George (Ryan Ernst), when she learns that an old flame, Eilert (Artun Kircali), is back in town.

Though suffering from alcoholism, Eilert has written a hugely successful book; and under the radar and “on the wagon” – with the starry-eyed help of an old schoolmate of Hedda’s who’s in an unhappy marriage (Victoria Rose Weatherspoon) – he’s also just written his masterpiece. When Eilert misplaces the manuscript, and it ends up in Hedda’s hands, she believes she finally might have the power she’s wanted all along.

Slipstream’s adaptation is a thoughtful, bare bones approach, disposing of George’s aunt (who’s ushered to “off-stage” status) and the maid. We also have three Heddas: one the frigid trophy wife (Bourque), one the sultry seductress (Alexander), one the youthful, wisecracking, puckish rebel (Sabrie), not only suggesting the identity complexities that lie within us all, but also representing Hedda’s common denominator for three different men. The Hedda that each male character needs, and feels drawn to, textures the way we read and respond to them.

But really, it’s all about the Heddas. Director Bailey Boudreau does a masterful job of choreographing scenes so that the meticulously divided up (and sometimes shared) dialogue consistently lands with clarity. Because the beating heart of the play is the tie that binds Hedda to Eliert, Alexander gets the meatiest parts of the role. Although all three actresses work in concert as smoothly as a chamber music trio, Alexander is the one we keep our eye on, and the actress rewards our attention with an all-in performance.

In addition to directing, Boudreau oversees costume design for the show, visually signaling the distinctions between the Heddas by way of styling: Bourque first appears in a sleek, sleeveless silver dress (looking every bit the cool, Hitchcockian ice princess); Alexander’s in a chocolate-colored gown with a black lace overlay; and Sabri wears youthful circle skirts in dark tones.

Ryan Ernst oversees the show’s technical design and execution, in a performance space that really does give you the experience of being a fly on the wall. Why? Because the intimate theater has just one row of chairs set up along three sides – giving it a kind of hyper-thrust stage feel – and Hedda and George’s living room furniture, and the actors themselves, are just steps away. (The actors even occasionally place objects on surfaces behind audience members, so that they must reach between and beyond them.) We are voyeurs, devouring the drama of these people’s lives in a fairly claustrophobic environment. And this seems wholly fitting, given Hedda’s classic tale of manipulation, regret, sabotage, and disappointment. The production’s tight, no-place-to-hide feel makes the stakes higher and tension more palpable.

“Hedda” marks my second outing to Slipstream (“The Importance of Being Earnest” was my first), and I’ll be back for many more, whether I’m reviewing the shows or not. While many theater companies have struggled over the years to figure out ways to appeal to younger audiences, Slipstream has found a way to do just that: apply innovative, fresh ideas to classic plays; streamline them while respecting the integrity of the original script; find an unpretentious, accessible performance space; and assemble a group of performers and designers who are passionate about what the company’s doing.

Slipstream is, hands-down, one of the most exciting things happening in Michigan’s theater scene right now, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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