Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ comes to North Coast Rep

Playwright Henrik Ibsen was born in Norway in 1828. He spent his growing years as a writer of poetry, drama, and eventually, as a celebrated playwright, penning a new play almost every year. Ibsen is the second most produced playwright in the world, after Shakespeare. In 1890 he wrote the classic “Hedda Gabler,” which opens June 1 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT), under the direction of NCRT Artistic Director David Ellenstein.

Making her third return to NCRT (“Chapter 2,” “Time Stands Still”) is Mhari Sandoval who portrays the discontented Hedda, a character to whom she said she has a connection.

“I’ve been a whatever-job-comes-along type of actor,” she said. “I believe all work is worth doing, and work begets work, so who am I to say no? There’s an amazing universality to the character of Hedda. Every woman I’ve spoken to knows the show. Nine actresses have said to me, ‘I’ve often felt like Hedda.’ I felt like maybe I could bring something to this character that would be specific, so it’s my Hedda versus anyone else’s Hedda. I had to do it.”

Sandoval said she realizes few women have the life they thought they were going to have at age 20 or 25, especially in this era. But today’s woman has the freedom to reinvent herself all the time. Hedda did not have that freedom during her lifetime.

“I’m excited to play this role because I understand her dilemma. She thought her life was going to be one thing and it turned out as something else altogether because of her circumstances and era. She has little ability to change it. It’s about understanding her good intentions and not always being able to control the impulses, temper and feelings of disappointment. Hedda did not know how to fix her life.”

But before rehearsals could begin, NCRT staff decided there had to be some changes to the script.

“Rather than using the existent translation, we worked with the brilliant dramaturg Anne-Charlotte Harvey,” Sandoval said. “She did a direct translation of the text from the Norwegian script including word order, grammar, sentence structure, American idiom to help to clarify, and more ... until it was completely workable as a script. What was intended in this range in 1890 is now in America; so it’s still that play, but now it doesn’t sound strange to an American audience.”

In research about Ibsen and this play it was revealed that Hedda’s married name is Hedda Tesman; Gabler is her maiden name. On the subject of the title, Ibsen wrote: “My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than her husband’s wife.”

Sandoval supports the premise. “That is clear on every page of the script,” she said. “She’s in a world where she’s supposed to go with her husband as a wife. Her husband’s very single-minded and rooted in his own perspective. His life is supposed to become her life, but Hedda just isn’t suited for that. I think the audience will really enjoy this drama. It’s extraordinary how relevant it continues to be and how beautiful and funny it is at times.”

IF YOU GO: “Hedda Gabler” runs June 1-26 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $39 at (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org

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