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'Hedda Gabler' on the prowl
AASU kicks off its season with Ibsen's classic stage drama
Danni Conti with Alfred Pierce

Hedda Gabler is a scamp, a camp and a bit of a tramp. In Henrik Ibsen's classic psychological drama Hedda Gabler, she's all this and more - ruthless, scheming, predatory.

But Hedda also happens to be beautiful, which has opened doors her entire life. It's when she marries the dour and dull academic Jorgen Tesman that things begin to unravel. She's built herself a box without an escape hatch.

For more than 100 years, Hedda Gabler has been a staple of the dramatic stage. Thursday, Armstrong Atlantic State University opens its fall theater season with Christopher Shin's recent Broadway adaptation, in Jenkins Hall.

Danni Conti, 21, is playing one of the most difficult roles for women in all of theater.

In character as Hedda, she explains why Hesman - who wrote his dissertation on Belgian basket-weaving - is grating on her nerves.

"I married down, so I'm used to more money than I have," she says. "And I just hate everything about him. Nobody ever expected us to get married in the first place. And I was off with him for six months on our honeymoon, and when you're with someone like that, so much, they just drive you crazy."

Director Eric Kildow, who teaches theater at AASU, explains that Hedda Gabler is considered the female Hamlet. It takes a strong and determined lead performer to pull it off.

"As a director, you don't decide to do a show unless you have an idea that there's somebody in the department who could do it," he says. "You're not going to do Hamlet, or Richard III, or Hedda, unless there's someone "

Theater students, he believes, look forward to the dealbreaker roles. "You come up against these occasionally in your educational career. And it is a way of testing mettle. You think about it all the time: ‘Could I tackle that if they put it front of me?'"

The main conflict in Ibsen's play arrives with Ejlert Lovborg, a rival of Hedda's husband. For various reasons, Hedda insinuates herself into Lovborg's affairs.

"She's really just bored and trapped, so out of boredom and spite she's messing with everyone in her life," Conti says. " She's doing anything she can to live out her days because she feels so empty on the inside. She thrives on anything that will fill the void.

"That's why she comes off so mean sometimes. And then people are like ‘Well, why do they keep her around, because she's so mean?'"

Tesman, bless his timid little soul, loves his wife and doesn't really understand the power he's up against.

Be forewarned: This is not a happy play.

"There are a million different ways that this show could be done," Conti explains. "And that in itself is a challenge, because there's no real ‘right' answer."

Shin's adaptation was first staged early this year, with Mary Louise Parker in the title role, at the American Airlines Theater in New York.

In fact, says Kildow, AASU is the first school granted permission to use the Shin adaptation.

"What he has done in many ways is pared down the language into a very sort of streamlined, very sleek form of dialogue. Many of the sort of chunky speeches that mark a lot of Ibsen's work have been reduced and boiled down to a core."

Kildow stresses it's not a "dumbed-down" version of Hedda - the word he prefers is "distilled."

At any rate, "Any time you do Ibsen in English, you are doing an adaptation. In some ways, you're always one step away from the original, just for the simple fact that you're not doing it in the original Norwegian."

Hedda Gabler

Where: Jenkins Hall, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24-26, 3 p.m. Sept. 27

Tickets: $10, AASU staff, faculty, and students with valid AASU PirateCard free.

Contact: (912) 344-2801