Hedda Gabler

Arden Stockell-Giesler plays Hedda Gabler in TheatreUNCA’s production./ Photo by Studio Misha Photography

TheatreUNCA will present Hedda Gabler, the 1890 drama by Henrik Ibsen, one of the founders of modernism in theater, with a new translation that director Aaron Snook calls “streamlined and accessible.” Curtain at UNC Asheville’s Belk Theatre will rise at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 27-29, and there will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 1.

“What Ibsen did so brilliantly was create very complex human beings on the stage that could be seemingly contradictory,” says Snook. “And we’re creating some moments of transition between the acts that will be different from some other Hedda Gablers. We’re not changing the script, but using the spaces in the play itself to tell a little bit more of her story.”

Hedda’s story – being thrust into a marriage she doesn’t want, seeing no way out, and finally resorting to suicide – is at once Ibsen’s denunciation of the social constraints of his time, and an exploration of psychological conflicts. And the almost-all-student cast has done a deep dive into both aspects.

“We spent about a week as a cast deep-reading the script and analyzing each of the characters, especially Hedda – trying to figure out motivations and what it would be like to be in that time period with those motivations,” says Arden Stockdell-Geisler, a sophomore who plays Hedda. “We’ve done research on what women were and weren’t allowed to do in this time period, and reflected personally on how modern society differs and how there are still some blatant similarities.”

Suicide also is very real issue in contemporary life, and that is something that the cast and Snook felt the need to address together. “We worked to create a safe space in the room at the beginning of the process, to bring about a really productive conversation about suicide and how we want to present it, how we don’t want to glorify it,” says Snook. “Like any great piece of art, this is an investigation into the human condition. It certainly is one of the high drama moments of the human condition when someone feels so suffocated by the world around them that they don’t feel they have a choice.”

Hedda’s suffocation is felt physically to an extent by Stockdell-Giesler – even in early rehearsals, she is laced into a corset. “It helps me embrace Hedda’s character because she does feel constricted and constrained in her environment,” she said. Her embrace of the character is full on. “I got the script in December and have read it at least twice a day every day since then. And the more and more I read it, the more human Hedda becomes instead of just a trapped woman.

“With a text like this, it can be so easy to portray characters as … this is the judge – he’s a bad guy; here’s the husband, a sad husband who isn’t super interested,” says Stockdell-Giesler, an English major who focuses her studies on poetry and creative non-fiction. “In this show, each character is so multi-dimensional and fleshed out to life, it’s beautiful. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Snook too says that in some productions, Ibsen’s characters of a bygone era have seemed one-dimensional, and he is very familiar with the challenges and joys of keeping classics current. In addition to his role as an adjunct member of UNC Asheville’s drama faculty, he co-founded the American Myth Center which has staged local adaptations of iconic works by Dickens and Shakespeare. “My hope with this production,” he says, “is that people can come out of the theater wanting to figure out what happened – why? And then maybe we can all – the audience and us as artists – do that in the rest of our lives, and take people in the fullness of their story instead of as defined by one act or one aspect.”

General admission tickets are $12; $10 for UNC Asheville faculty and seniors; $7 for students, alumni and OLLI members; with tickets available online in advance at drama.unca.edu or at the Belk Theatre Box Office 30 minutes before curtain.

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