Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of I Will Not Go Gently
The story begins with Gregers Werle returning home after a fifteen-year self-imposed exile. His father hopes they can reconcile, but Gregers has been nursing old wounds too long to let them go now. Fixating on how old friend Hjalmar Ekdal was wronged by his father, Gregers becomes determined to save the Ekdals from their terrible fate.
The problem is that when Gregers arrives to save Hjalmar's family it becomes clear they are quite happy. Gregers offers to take Hjalmar's father back to the woods he once loved, but discovers he is content to hunt in the family's little garret. Undeterred, Gregers' focus shifts to Hjalmar's wife Gina and their 12-year-old daughter Hedwig. Believing that a household built on dishonesty is toxic, Gregers decides to tell Hjalmar about an ancient affair between Gina and his father. Relling, a doctor and the Ekdals' neighbor, understands the devastating effect this information will have on the family and tries to convince Gregers to leave things as they are.
Wright's adaptation includes a number of small changes that make the play feel remarkably fresh. Reimagining Dr. Relling as a woman is a particular stroke of genius, making a normally stock character intriguing, creating a powerful dichotomy between the genders. Wright's The Wild Duck shows us a world of men whofor all their talk of sacrifice, idealism, and achievementare ultimately all sound and fury: a realist unwilling to accept a difficult truth about his own mother, an inventor unable to create, a hunter afraid of the woods, and a successful businessman well on his way to becoming completely helpless. Their female counterparts, too busy with the practical matters to waste time waxing poetic about abstract philosophies, are the ones who end up embodying the much debated ideals to the utmost.
The actresses bringing Wright's vision to life are extraordinary. Brett Ashley Robinson radiates calm strength as Hjalmar's wife Gina, conveying the depth of her insight with only a skeptically pursed lip or humorously raised eyebrow. Anita Holland infuses the role of Mrs. Sorby with a remarkably graceful restraint. Holland's brief interaction with Mary Tuomanen conveys a complex love story with a handful of short words and pained looks. Tuomanen also manages to find a surprising amount of humor in the role of drunken neighbor Dr. Relling. Deysha Nelson plays the Ekdals' smart but sweetly dispositioned daughter Hedwig with unparalleled talent and poise.
The initial interaction between Gregers (Tom Carman is entitled and infuriatingly obstinate) and Hjalmar (a hilariously anosognosic David Pica) is a bit awkward, but once they get warmed up, Carman and Pica are excellent. Paul Hebron plays Hjalmar's father with just enough aged detachment to invoke sympathy without pity. Emma Arrick's set and Maria Shaplin's lighting offer a stark contrast between the Werles' cold residence and the Ekdals' warm home. That contrast mirrors the distinction between the play's malevolently self-important men and its wise women, a distinction I suspect many will continue to recognize long after the house lights have come up.
The Wild Duck, though April 29th, 2018, in rotating repertory with Julius Ceasar at the Quintessence Theatre Group's Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy, Philadelphia PA. For tickets please visit www.QuintessenceTheatre.org or call 1-215-987-4450.