The Kenan Theatre Company’s Hedda Gabler, directed by Mark Perry and based on the famous Henrik Ibsen play, is about a woman on the edge. Finding herself in a life that doesn’t fulfill her, the titular character seeks out to gain a sense of agency by any means necessary. She stirs up trouble in her social circle and breaks decorum in order to finally exercise control in her life, and the story that follows is at once exciting and heartbreaking.
The Ibsen drama, now over a century old, has been adapted many times over the years, and for good reason. It is a fully-realized character study, taking audiences into the inner workings of a woman looking for her place in the world. Furthermore, its female-led narrative deals with the ways in which women are saddled with the expectations of men, a theme that feels relevant today.
Perry’s production, which will open its doors Friday, is a success, particularly in regards to its great cast. Tori Jewell, who plays Hedda here, delivers a knockout performance and imbues the character with incredible dimension. The world that Hedda inhabits is civil and refined, but she can barely contain her feelings of anger and frustration.
Jewell is incredibly effective at fracturing the public mask that Hedda wears, giving us glimpses at the tormented private life she tries to keep blocked off from the other characters. Hedda eventually turns to deceit and manipulation in her search for meaning, and some of her more cutting remarks are even violent in their intention, but Jewell grabs onto the character’s emotional core and forces us to sympathize with her.
LJ Enloe plays Hedda’s husband, George Tesman, a milquetoast scholar who is completely oblivious to Hedda's discontent. Hedda’s constant irritation with George leads to some of the (mostly serious) play’s funniest scenes, and Enloe is great is the role. His George is so tone-deaf that it would be easy to play him as being one-dimensional, but Enloe portrays him as an ultimately well-meaning man who doesn’t realize how little he understands his wife.