Stephanie Gularte's Hedda Gabler floats onto the shadowed stage with an otherworldly presence. Alone in a darkened living room, she snatches off sheets covering furniture, gasping quietly, and it seems she might asphyxiate at any moment. While her Hedda will not physically suffocate, the intensely desperate character might as well. In the next 24 hours, her world will close in around her, becoming an increasingly airless void.
The fascinating new Capital Stage adaptation and production of "Hedda Gabler," Henrik Ibsen's 1891 classic about a woman on the edge, streamlines the drama, leaving Hedda even more exposed than usual.
Ibsen's greatness lies partly in how he turned the "well-made play" of his era inside- out, creating characters, especially women, who had complex inner lives. Hedda Gabler is a pinnacle of that artistry, and Gularte masterfully embodies Hedda, continually exposing her misplaced yearning and festering dissatisfaction, even while lurking silently at the back of the stage.
The original adaptation, created by Capital Stage with director Janis Stevens, strives for timelessness but still churns on the central conceit of Ibsen's creation. Hedda has nowhere to go but desperately seeks something profound in her life. She's recently become the wife of George Tesman, a genial though dull academic in an unremarkable town. The superb Michael Wiles' earnest Tesman offers a bustling contrast to Gularte's coolly removed Hedda.
Having just returned from a long honeymoon abroad much of which George spent working they now face the domestic life ahead of them. It's a marriage neither thought they'd make: a step down for her and a bonanza for him. Hedda knows she's tightly yoked to her husband's finite teaching and research prospects. Her hopes for a grand life are dim, even with the best of outcomes for the teaching position that Tesman hopes to gain.
The lean adaptation loses any substantive reference to Hedda's late father, a general she adored, and whose position affords her status as well. There's only a vague sense of what she's lost or how far she's fallen, though Gularte makes it clear Hedda desires more than Tesman can provide in any way. The audience understands her malaise but that doesn't excuse her behavior, which moves from boorish to tragically manipulative.
Their homecoming receives a jolt when Eilert Lovborg (an outstanding Jonathan Rhys Williams), a former lover of Hedda's, returns to town. The gifted Lovborg is a surprising rival for the same teaching position Tesman thought he was promised and has counted on.
Following Lovborg is Thea Elvsted (a fine Jessica Chisum), clearly in love with him and sparking intense jealousy in Hedda. Peter Mohrmann has glorious turn as the cynically arch Judge Brack, the only person who seems to truly understand Hedda. The wonderful veteran actress Vada Russell is delightful as Tesman's dutiful Aunt Julia.
Gail Russell's stunning costumes create an air of crisp modernity.
Director Stevens creates a gorgeously intimate spectacle with her strong, complementary ensemble.
What: Capital Stage presents an original adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play, directed by Janis Stevens, with Stephanie Gularte, Jonathan Rhys Williams and Peter Mohrmann.
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 16
Tickets: $24-$35. Student-rush tickets are half-price; Senior Sunday matinee tickets are $28.
Information: (916) 995-5464, www.capstage.org
Time: Two hours 20 minutes including one intermission.
Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. On Twitter: @marcuscrowder.