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Theater Review

This 'Wild Duck's' a Strange Bird

Ibsen's classic play manages to overcome some heavy-handed tinkering by its director and set designer in a revival at A Noise Within.

April 16, 2002|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Guest director Adrian Giurgea and set designer Danila Korogodsky, collaborators on Henrik Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" at Glendale's A Noise Within, are willing to try just about anything in their version of Ibsen's tragicomedy about what happens to two families when truth becomes a weapon.

The result is definitely not a tame "Duck"--but in the overeager hands of Giurgea and Korogodsky, it's sort of a strange duck. Luckily, the play is strong enough to withstand their good intentions. This "Wild Duck" succeeds not because of their theatrical tinkering, but in spite of it.

Posted on the doors outside the theater is a warning: "The Wild Duck" is two hours and 45 minutes long, including one 15-minute intermission--a little daunting, no matter how committed one might be to theater (and Friday's opening night audience was committed indeed; one brave attendee was overheard to observe: "We've been through 'King Lear' here; we can do anything").

Faced with the challenge of the modern American attention span, one can hardly blame the creative forces behind the production for trying to make sure that a long, old play by a dead Norwegian contains enough innovation to make the journey worthwhile. But oddball elements of the set, as well as an over-the-top quality to some performances clearly dictated by the director, argue with the elegant clarity of the story. This play is good--it's hung around since 1884. There's no need to try quite this hard.

This is particularly true of certain maddening elements of Korogodsky's set. The play opens with a party scene at which the first gossipy details that lead to a long, inevitable journey toward tragedy begin to be revealed. Problem is, you can't hear them. The scene is played behind a big, incongruously modern-looking window wall at the back of the stage. It's not that the actors are not speaking loudly enough, but there's a tinny distortion of the voices through the glass. Act 1, Scene 1 of a two-hour-and-45-minute play is way too early to find yourself saying, "Huh?"

Luckily, the action moves quickly from behind glass to the front of the stage, which variously serves as a garden or the modest home of Hjalmar Ekdal (Geoff Elliott) and wife Gina (Julia Coffey), the hapless couple who suffer most at the hands of moralistic do-gooder Gregers Werle (Dougald Park). Here, the few simple sticks of furniture are all that's needed.

But not enough, apparently, for Korogodsky. If you couldn't hear the actors behind the glass, in front of the glass, Korogodsky seems hell-bent on making sure you can't see them, either.

A large, black, T-shaped structure--much like empty girders on a construction site, and as jarringly contemporary as the window--stands mid-stage. It serves no apparent purpose save to impair sight lines. The thing doesn't cause a total obstruction of vision, just intrudes enough to occasionally make you wonder what you're missing. You need the press notes to know that this steely contraption "represents the here and now," in contrast to lost innocence.

This play already has a wounded wild duck flapping around in the attic; Ibsen's got that symbolism pretty much covered.

Director Giurgea also goes half a step too far. Possibly in an attempt to make sure the melodrama doesn't overwhelm Ibsen's intended comedy, Giurgea pushes most of the cast, especially Elliott and Coffey, into cartoon territory. While an audience must recognize their absurdity, surely they shouldn't see it--and even seem to deliberately play to it--themselves.

Giurgea does, however, coax a natural, sweetly somber performance from Lily Nicksay as 14-year-old Hedvig Ekdal, the innocent whose very life depends on a secret web of lies. With her hopeful but worried dark eyes and face pale as the moon, she's a heartbreaking victim. But Giurgea's choice to add another actress in a wig portraying a sort of ghostly reflection of the girl on the opposite side of that irritating window is, once again, more than we needed to know.

*

"The Wild Duck," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. In repertory Sunday through May 19. Fridays: April 26, May 17, 8 p.m.; Saturday: April 27, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays: April 21, May 5, May 19, 2 and 7 p.m; May 15-16, 8 p.m.

Old Werle...William Dennis Hunt

Gregers Werle...Dougald Park

Old Ekdal ...James Karr

Hjalmar Ekdal...Geoff Elliott

Gina Ekdal...Julia Coffey

Hedvig...Lily Nicksay

Mrs. Sorby...Julia Silverman

Dr. Relling...Christopher Gerson

Molvik...Lars Carlson

Pettersen...Mark Patrick Moore

Ensemble...Gwen Copeland, Daniel Holabaugh, Sarah Horvath, Tammy Isbell, Ron Morehouse, Rod Simmons, Mark Thomsen, Julia Watt

By Henrik Ibsen. Translation by Michael Meyer. Directed by Adrian Giurgea. Set design by Danila Korogodsky. Costume design by Angela Balogh Calin. Lighting design by Peter Gottlieb. Sound design by Normal L. Berman. Stage manager Melissa Teoh.

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