The Wild Duck--2
Posted in the Rhinebeck Forum
#1 Aug 1, 2011
Finally, in The Wild Duck (1884), Ibsen takes the realist/reformer Dr. Stockman and turns him into Gregers Werle, a man who has made “truth-telling” his own self-illusion, and whose actions destroy all that is good in the lower-middle-class family to which he attaches himself.
The play is dated, and making it succeed on a contemporary stage is no easy task. This is partly because the very characters Ibsen (and others) invented to attack society’s foolishnesses have come down to our own time as the common stuff of family dramas and sitcoms, characters such as the out-of-it father, the sensible wife, the precocious child, the doddering grandparent, the drunken neighbor, the crazy man down the street, the meddling busybody, and the contented older couple.
So, while in Ibsen’s day the play was much more nearly a tragedy, today, it comes at one as if it were a comedy. Indeed, Bard publicity referred to it as a “comic tragedy.”
Despite the challenges, translator David Eldridge, director Caitriona McLaughlin, and a fine crew of actors pulled off an absorbing and effective production, one made all the more impressive when compared to the poorly received over-modernization of “A Doll’s House” currently playing in New York.
They also succeeded in finding that middle ground in Ibsen characterization—someplace between realistically human and satirically exaggerated. Playing with a Nixonian hunch, Sean Cullen made a fine, easily led Hjalmar Ekdal; Mary Bacon, a perky, feet-on-the-ground Gina; Liam Craig, a world-weary philosopher/skeptic Dr. Relling, and Rachel Cora, an excellent 14-year-old Hedwig. And further praises could go to practically any other member of the cast—truly an impressive show.
And finally, one must note Ibsen’s brilliant use of the Ekdal attic, filled as it is with remnants of the sorts of the forest Grandfather Ekdal (Peter Malony) used to hunt in—and the unable-to-fly titular wild duck. This attic represents the Ekdal psyche and, as such, the illusion of freedom—for people who, like most of us, possess fragile outer selves and cannot take too much truth. Old Ekdal spends most of his day there, daughter Hedwig (who is still innocent) visits the wild duck there, and the illusion-destroying “realist,” Gregers Werlel (Dashiell Eaves), wants nothing more than to destroy it.
Does this brilliantly realized play have anything to say to today’s world? I mean, do we have any among us who are boxed in by the “selves” they have chosen to put on? Of course not. Here, in 21st-century America? Unimaginable!
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