A new translation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler by San Diegan Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey (Dinner with Marlene), at least figuratively speaking, brings the 125-year-old play into the 21st century. The North Coast Repertory Theatre's production directed by David Ellenstein resembles the Heddas you've probably seen before with period costumes and opulent furnishings. At NCR, Marty Burnett's set, Elisa Benzoni's costume design and Matt Novotny's lighting are collectively outstanding. In this iteration of Hedda Gabler, the difference is how at times Hedda (Mhari Sandoval) and those in her destructive sphere of influence sound more contemporary, and even get laughs.
In spite of its literary pedigree, Hedda Gabler possesses the pulsating emotions and interpersonal machinations of a cracking good daytime serial, except that everything in its four acts revolves around one central, overriding character: Hedda, a beautiful, aristocratic, larger-than-life neurotic character who's as cold as she is willful. Moving with the easy grace of a pampered cat, Sandoval brings tremendous sex appeal to the role, even though Ibsen's heroine only teases and poses. She's a woman who flinches from actual physical contact. That aloofness is intended especially for her new husband Jorgen Tesman (Bruce Turk), whom she wed neither out of love nor lust. Turk does well as a stammering academic propped up in direct contrast to another man in Hedda's life, the snidely confident Judge Brack (Ray Chambers, tall and leering).
The arrival of always-charismatic Richard Baird as Hedda's tortured ex-lover Eilert Lovborg in Act 2 follows a slow, talky first act. This ominous turn in Ibsen's story, which also involves the young lovestruck (over Lovburg) Thea Elvsted (Mel House) raises the narrative stakes and inspires Hedda to do her damnedest.
Hedda Gabler, even in this world-premiere translation, is a drawing-room kind of drama with few of its contrivances as intriguing as the complex portrait of Hedda herself. Why else do you think so many esteemed actresses of stage and screen (Ingrid Bergman, Diana Rigg, Cate Blanchett, to name three) have played her—and so many others desire to do so?
Hedda Gabler runs through June 26 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $43-$50. northcoastrep.org
American Rhythm: An original musical production that uses the most memorable songs of the last 100 years. Conceived by Robert Smyth, it opens June 10 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Nunsense: A “mega-musical” spoof about five nuns attempting to organize a fundraiser after one of them accidentally kills off the rest of the convent. Presented by the Pickwick Players, it opens June 10 at Off Broadway Live in Santee. pickwickplayers.net
Lydia: The local premiere of the modern tragedy about an undocumented woman who comes to care for a disabled girl in 1970s El Paso. Presented by ion theatre, it opens June 11 at the BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.
Chekhov Unscripted: The characters of playwright Anton Chekhov get the improv comedy treatment from the locals in Improv Theatre. It happens June 13 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Sister Act: The musical based on the film about a singer who witnesses a crime and has to hide out in a convent. Directed by John Vaughan, it opens June 15 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
The Boy Who Danced on Air: A new musical drama about the Afghani cultural practice of bacha bazi, where older men engage and often buy boys as young as nine-years-old to train them and “keep” them. It runs through June 12 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
Chapter Two: The classic Neil Simon play about a writer and widower attempting, rather hilariously, to find love again. It runs through June 12 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Hollywood: Set in the ’20s, his world premiere noir thriller is based on the true story of the unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor. Written by Joe DiPietro, it runs through June 12 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Camp David: This new play centers on the 1978 Middle East peace talks between Israel and Egypt and of which the legacy is still felt today. Written by Pulitzer-winner Lawrence Wright, it runs through June 19 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Stupid Fucking Bird: Young artistic types struggle in Aaron Posner’s irreverent take on Chekhov’s The Seagull. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through June 19 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Woody Guthrie’s American Song: An ensemble musical based on the life of the revered American folk singer and songwriter behind classics like “This Land is Your Land” and “Bound for Glory.” Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it runs through June 19 at the Horton Grand Theatre in Downtown. intrepidtheatre.org
Golda’s Balcony: A one-woman show about Golda Meir, a Russian immigrant who went on to become Israel’s first female prime minister. Part of the San Diego Jewish Arts Festival, it runs through June 26 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Hedda Gabler: A world premiere translation of Henry Ibsen’s classic tale of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Translated by Anne-Charlotte Harvey, it runs through June 26 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Murder at the Howard Johnsons: A suspenseful comedy in three scenes about a love triangle gone wrong. It runs through June 26 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Sordid Lives: When the elderly matriarch dies, a family must sort through their issues or risk embarrassing themselves at the funeral. Written by Del Shores, it runs through June 26 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
tokyo fish story: When flashier restaurants start cutting into business, an old-school sushi chef must make some changes with help from his protégé. Written by Kimber Lee, it runs through June 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org