Indie Art: Save Me, a Hedda Gabler adaptation

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I am a Hedda Gabler addict. As a teenager, Henrick Ibsen’s Hedda expressed to me how incredibly stifling life can feel when you have no control over your future, when you’re expected to be and act a certain way. I had incredibly supportive parents but still felt that tug to become what they wanted instead of go into a direction I knew was right but was not sure where it would lead.So the theater company Lucid by Proxy’s new adaptation (their first production in three years) intrigued me from the start. Save Me is a modern re-telling of Ibsen’s formidable heroine/antagonist with movement and song interludes.

Shannon Nelson as Hedda Gabler

Valerie Rachelle & Rick Robinson's adaptation combined with Shannon Nelson's portrayal create a Hedda who could match even the most devious of the Mean Girls from school: her power lies in a honey which coats villainy with empathy. This particular Hedda has lived her whole life as a Senator's daughter, until some scandal caused his downfall. The scandal remains somewhat nebulous, though likely connected to his wife’s departure. In the first moments of the play, the audience witnesses Hedda in a private sexual dance with her dead father’s handguns, which we learn later were a gift from the N.R.A. That single detail clarified just how deeply conservative the Gabler family and their surrounding associates are, and much about the original play also came into focus.

Her new husband George Tesman is played by Ed Robinson as a very nerdy, devoted lover only slightly verging on pushover. That’s a hard balance, and one of the few times I could believe in Tesman as more than what Hedda sees in him: someone to serve a supporting role in her survival within a world she finds tedious. Tesman, too, only has one path before him: publish and gain a professorship or perish into poverty.

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Jack Sochet as Thomas Brack is delightfully sinister, creating an unholy alliance with Hedda to break up her boredom and satisfy an increasing need to keep hold of various people’s puppet strings, until he needs them. The contemporary context of conservative school chums finding their way into adulthood made me uncomfortable at first. Empathizing with people with whom I rarely converse in today's bi-partisan world was off-putting, in the way that only good art can do.

I don’t see a lot of theatre specifically focused on the difficulties of growing up conservative, unless they are tales of a liberal mind ‘breaking free’ from their upbringing in some way. To its credit, Save Me hardly delves into the politics as we see them in headlines today (subtly revealing key details through character, mostly successfully), and so my own opinions didn’t build a wall between myself and the characters. This group of young adult’s choices feel incredibly limited, much as the original Hedda must have felt to Ibsen’s audiences.

It’s easy for people to accept and dismiss a Hedda Gabler in the original time period. Women just didn’t have freedoms back then, fathers and then husbands were almighty in a female’s life, a woman leaving her husband would be a socially threatening scandal; so Save Me, placed into this world that could and probably does exist today, creates frightening implications.

Even more importantly, Valerie Rachelle & co-writer Rick Robinson's piece provoked my own thought about the original material as well as people with whom I don’t have much if anything in common. Empathy tends to be overused among theatre artists, yet is the most accurate word to describe my experience. It’s easy and safe for audiences to feel empathy towards people with a slightly different upbringing or cultural heritage, if well presented. Much harder nowadays is to let an audience member into a world where they’re vehemently inclined to disagree with the political motivations, the implied societal ideas about a woman’s place, and make us care deeply about what happens to all the characters involved.

For the first time in a long line of Hedda Gabler productions, the end seemed inevitable yet still surprising. The new couple huddled over manuscripts felt a little hopeful for a future interested in a legacy of truth, leaving a befuddled Brack to utter Ibsen’s last words in a state that matched the befuddled confusion of Romney’s supporters on election night last year.

Many in the ensemble deserve mention for their work, including Annalisa Erickson as Aunt Julia, Natasha Harris as Thea Elvstead and Justin Lujan as Evan Lessing. Based on the description, I expected a few more movement interludes than we saw, but also felt the Hedda solos worked much better than when Thea and Evan or Hedda and Evan expressed their feelings through some harsh choreography. I understood why we saw those three characters’ inner lives at those moments; I just felt that Hedda’s solos integrated into the whole production better.

Lucid by Proxy has one more weekend of Save Me performances, Tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 5pm. Tickets and more info below.

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the story

Save MeLucid by Proxy returns after three years with this stunning original re-imagination of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, conceived, written and directed by LbP Founding Producer Valerie Rachelle.

In Save Me, Hedda, the daughter of a prominent, recently deceased politician, fights for her own sanity as she navigates a secret love triangle of her mild, professorial husband, a passionate and obsessive writer, and a smooth, cynical political operator. It is Lucid by Proxy's 19th production, and our return to Los Angeles theater after three long years.

This contemporary retelling uses a soulful soundtrack and actor-driven movement pieces to help tell the story, layering them in with traditional theatrical storytelling to create an experience that connects the audience viscerally to Hedda's journey.

Note: Save Me contains harsh language, sexual situations and loud noises, and so may not be appropriate for all audiences.

dates, times & tickets

November 8 - December 7, 2013 Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 5PM

The Complex Theater 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90038

General Admission: $20

Click here to buy tickets online through Brown Paper Tickets or call 1-800-838-3006

cast & crew

Hedda: Shannon Nelson George: Ed Robinson Brack: Jack Sochet Evan: Justin Lujan Thea: Natasha Harris Julia: AnnaLisa Erickson

director: Valerie Rachelle asst. director: Tyler Scheef movement asst.: Siobhan Doherty costumes: Ellen King set: David Nett lighting: Gabriel Rodriguez sound: Rick Robinson