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Another Hedda Gabler graces a local stage

Take two 

Another Hedda Gabler graces a local stage

True students of the theater are always interested when two companies schedule productions of the same work in the same season. Here's why: One of the main attractions of classical theater involves the chance to discover new insights in a world already known. When two companies do a play like

Hedda Gabler , a dialogical process that ordinarily takes years--at least in this part of the country--slips into extreme fast forward.

How differently can two artists see the same text: two directors, two set designers, two costumiers, or two actors in the lead role? Is one interpretation more appropriate than the other? Or do both carve out equally valid, though disparate, versions?

The latter is the case with Triad Stage's current take on Ibsen. Paul Frellick's November production for Deep Dish Theater deliberately left us with a prickly bouquet of question marks surrounding the title character's identity, composition and motivations. Preston Lane's gothic-tinged, comparatively straight-no-chaser adaptation presents a general's brilliant daughter who wages a war all her own, in her search for a place of power (and pleasure, and reciprocation) in the stifling man's world of Norway in 1890.

Krista Hoeppner cuts a severe, compelling figure in the title role, an effective and ruthless tactician who changes faces to get advantage: confidante and presumed peer to those with the power she craves, interrogator and nemesis to enemies defined.

Hedda meets more of a match in this production in Judge Brack, to whom David McCann gives the two entirely different sides his character would have needed to pull off an ethical charade undetected in that world. With their game of chess more clearly--and graphically--defined, the consequences of loss are made transparent.

Jason Romney's sound design and Howard Jones' enigmatic set are almost worth the trek in themselves. At times low lights and wind both illustrate the ghostly pages which symbolize the rival Lovborg's manuscript, hung as if in accusation from the back of Jones' pale white and aqua set. Meanwhile, low strings and the rhythmic insistence of Norwegian singer Sissel's atmospheric soundtrack propels us, willingly, further into darkness--a convincing fusion of stagecraft and theatrical art.

Before we close, a note about the N.C. Kids Theatre production of The Miracle Worker, which returns this Thursday to the Carolina Theater. Though the supporting roles were variable when we saw the show in March, we were quite struck by Rita Glynn's work as young Helen Keller and Jamie Faussett's accompanying role as Anne Sullivan.

Both give this show a little something more than most children's theater--rock-solid characters, committed to the world they're in. Well worth catching.

Reviews & Openings

REVIEWS:
**** Poor Superman, Raleigh Ensemble Players--If one's benchmark is a masterpiece, most other plays must suffer by comparison. Still, such associations became inevitable the moment Canadian playwright Brad Fraser chose to write a sequel to Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, that dark, vast work REP challenged regional theater and theater-goers with four years ago.

So, bad news out of the way first: Poor Superman--like most contemporary theater--gets nowhere near the depths Fraser plumbed in that earlier work. It was probably a mistake to expect it to. But where Human Remains seemed freshly ripped from recent headlines--among other things--Superman seems more a period piece, at least partially due to the historical events which ground the work, to a distracting degree, in the early 1990s.

After surviving the gauntlet in the earlier work, central character David finds himself a noted gay visual artist in Calgary, in the midst of a powerful dry spell. No inspiration's coming from his entourage: roommate Shannon, a charming HIV-positive pre-op transvestite, or wry gal pal Kryla, a columnist for the local paper.

His solution? Start life as a waiter again--incognito--in the hopes of finding new inspiration (and just possibly a lover) in the process.

In doing so he collides with Matt and Violet, a recently relocated husband and wife team who've just opened a new cafe. David knows more about restauranting than both--and more about sexuality than the increasingly inquisitive Matt. Yet what David doesn't know about his own heart fills the dark zone at the center of this work.

In a deft performance, Glen Matthews (who co-directed with Heather Willcox) makes David the cagy human pinball in this mystery game. He's supported by a strong quartet onstage: As Shannon, Kareem Nemley remains so positive through her descent into illness, while Carole Marcotte returns with zest to regional stages as the acerbic Kryla. Betsy Henderson ably defines the shrill Violet, while Zach Thomas believably navigates uncharted troubled waters as Matt.

The ethical spaces Fraser explores echo those in Remains, up to a point. A crisis in a comic book--DC's 1992 decision to kill their flagship character, Superman--gets David and Kryla to debate the responsibilities that advanced beings (you know, like them--or you and I) might have to those less developed, whether artistically, sexually or socially.

Their arguments echo those the serial killer and others in Human Remains raised about how--or to what ends--people should be used. Fine performances and taut direction prove that a knockoff from a masterpiece can still provide a lot of food for thought. (Thursday-Sunday, through May 9. $15-$10. 832-9607.)

***1/2 Holiday, Deep Dish Theater--If Hell did not begin at home for the fabulously wealthy Setons, icy father Edward would insist it be imported. But since he's the only one enjoying all the blue blood and old money in this unapologetic Philip Barry jazz-age soaper, nearly everybody else with common sense is trying to vacate the family estate with dispatch.

Daughter Julia wants a wedding--within a month--with Johnny, the boyfriend from the other side of the crust. Eccentric, educated sister Linda toys with the idea of getting her passport renewed--not that dear old dad would ever actually let her get away, of course. Meanwhile, brother Ned is busy on his own little bit of permanent relocation--to the inside of a bottle of hooch. So it goes when a Wall Street scion treats his grown-up kids like his board of directors.

A fairly dark setting for a romantic comedy? You bet--and director Tony Lea picks up on all of it. Times have changed since the 1928 original, and George Kukor's 1938 film with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, so Lea takes a somewhat more even hand in this production. Good call: We invest more when we can actually feel the bite of golden handcuffs, the leash of conscience and the overweening sense of cold entitlement that drives different characters.

We get all these in this production--and still wind up with laughs to spare. Pitch-perfect casting puts Scotty Cherryholmes as icy father Edward, while David Berberian convincingly caresses brother Ned's bruised psyche. As things progress, Tracey Phillips catches the family chill as Julia.

John Allore is likable as a Johnny with his own ideas about society and business. Still, given the occasional excesses of Barry's script, he seems at times about to break into a chorus of The Internationale. Katja Hill constructs the most complex character on stage as sister Linda--even if she was throwing away too many of Barry's razor-sharp wisecracks on opening night. Memorable support comes from Timothy Cole and Katie Flaherty as those insufferable social climbers, the Crams--and from Kevin Ferguson and Collette Rutherford as true friends Nick and Susan Potter. Full credit goes as well to Rob Hamilton's magic set and Judy Chang's historic costumes. (Thursday-Sunday, through May 15. $14-$10. 968-1515.)

*** Steel Magnolias, Theatre in the Park--It clearly took a while for the denizens of Truvy's Beauty Spot to warm back up after a four-day furlough last Thursday night. Vanessa Zitzmann came out solid as addled Bible-thumper Annelle, and was ultimately joined by most of the ensemble. By the time Debra Grannan nailed M'Lynn's requiem for lost daughter Shelby, discreet sniffles were in abundance--even if Shelby's role (and Truvy's) remained too syrupy for my taste. (Thursday-Saturday, through May 9. $18-$12. 831-6058.)

*** The Sunshine Boys, Temple Theater--Two old vaudevillians who can't stand each other are asked to reunite for a TV show in this par-for-the-course 1986 Neil Simon comedy. Martin Thompson, Barbette Hunter and Jessica Willson do well in supporting roles, while rewarding regional veterans John Murphy and Bob Barr perfect the slow burn and the wisecrack as their characters try to rehearse a vintage sketch without killing one another. Barr and Murphy's work almost makes up for the disappointingly dispiriting comic payoff Simon comes up with when showtime rolls around. (Thursday-Sunday, through May 9. $18-$10. 774-4155.)

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