Cameron Alexander wants you to feel just a little bit trapped when you see his production of Henrik Ibsen’s classic Hedda Gabler, opening August 17 at The Rec Room. That’s because the titular character in the play feels that way—and Alexander wants his audience to understand her.
“Whether you like her or not, she is this iconic, problematic character, who makes some terrible choices,” he says. “But I wanted the audience to feel like they’re very much stuck with her in this space.”
Alexander’s producing the show in The Rec Room’s intimate, smaller venue, with about 30 seats. The setting is the not-fully-unpacked New York apartment of Hedda and her new husband, George Tesman, who are just back from their honeymoon when the play begins. Alexander has updated the script and its setting to the present day, but he’s kept the bare bones the same. Hedda is still the bored wife and daughter of General Gabler. Tesman is still an academic. Hedda still reacts in all the same ways as she has throughout the 127 years since the play’s premiere.
“When something is a period piece, it can feel distant, sometimes,” says Alexander. “When I was looking at the script, I realized that yes, we’ve changed and yes, in some ways, women have more equality. But, at the same time, in a lot of places, we haven’t. And I wanted to hold up that mirror to ourselves and look at the situation that created Hedda. Because she’s still with us. She’s polarizing.”
And so are several other characters in the play, he says. What fascinated Alexander about Hedda is that much of it turns on what he sees as the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell other people. How are we representing ourselves? Who’s watching us, are we aware of our actions, and how do those actions affect our lives and the lives of those around us?
Those are thorny questions, and Alexander, fresh from his artistic residency at The Rec Room, wanted to explore them. Earlier this year, he revamped A Midsummer Night’s Dream, making it a modern romp of the over-indulged kids of the privileged class. With Hedda, he’s bringing his modern sensibilities to a play about a woman who sets in motion a series of events that have massive repercussions.
He adapted the script with director Sophia Watt, assistant director Melanie Ernestina, and the rest of the company, a deliberate choice he made to have as many female voices as he could be part of the process of telling Hedda’s story.
“This isn’t a man’s story,” he says. “Having women collaborate to tell this makes it a stronger piece.”
Thru Aug. 25. Tickets $20. Rec Room, 100 Jackson St. 713-344-1291. More info and tickets at recroomarts.org.