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As Jeffrey Mindock sees it, there are two kinds of people when it comes to the play “Hedda Gabler.” There are those who know it and have probably seen several productions, and then there those who have no idea what they’re in for.
Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s version of the classic Henrik Ibsen play, which Mindock directs, will appeal to both camps. “Hedda Gabler” runs March 24-April 9 at SCT’s Studio Theatre.
“That’s one of the most exciting things about this play, is that there’s a familiarity, but also a nuance of unfamiliarity,” Mindock said.
For those unfamiliar with the play, here’s a brief overview. Hedda Gabler is newly married and very unhappy. She feels trapped in her marriage and a house that she does not want, and begins to meddle in the lives of others.
“The play starts on the day that she and her husband have returned home from their honeymoon, and as the little snippet online will say, ‘First day back and she’s already disgruntled,’” Mindock said. “There’s a lot of ways to look at (this play), but for me, it’s a marriage play. It’s a play about relationships. It’s a play that feels familiar because the characters are so well-written and they’re so reminiscent of people that we probably come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.”
Keisha McMillen playing lead role ‘with aplomb’
Hedda is a strong female lead character, something that has drawn Mindock to the play. Keisha McMillen, of the Springfield Regional Arts Council, plays that role. She’s a veteran of Springfield’s stages, having performed in productions by SCT, Mosaic Arts Collective and Small Umbrella Theatre.
“She’s handling it with aplomb,” Mindock said. “She is breathtaking, she is brilliant and the most exciting thing for me as a director is that, in the beginning of this entire casting process, I actually had her in mind for another role. But through auditions and callbacks and just getting to work with her more, it became evident that she was the person to play Hedda Gabler.
“(McMillen’s) just got so much life in her, and what a privilege for our audiences to also look at this story with an actress of color taking the lead role. Whenever I tackle a project, I like to focus on color-conscious casting, where I want there to be as much diversity as southwest Missouri will allow, with the talent that I have available to me as a director. And although that doesn’t change the play, it adds a new level of context and a new level of understanding for the story that we’re telling in an hour and a half window when people come to East Chestnut Expressway and enter the doors to the theatre.”
The cast also includes Susan Belcher, Kathy Busch, Kirstin Hildebrand, Matt Reed, Jon Sidoli and Michael Watterson.
Adding a modern flair to a classic work
“Hedda Gabler” was first performed in 1891. SCT isn’t using that original script, though, eschewing the traditional Victorian-era costumes and language. This production is based off a version written by Patrick Marber in 2016, and Mindock and his cast are putting a modern spin on things. We’re talking reality television modern.
Mindock said he used the Netflix and Bravo reality show “Selling Sunset” as the play’s anchor point. That series is focused on The Oppenheim Group, one of the premier real estate companies in West Hollywood.
“When audiences come to see this play, we’re inviting them into a West Hollywood apartment with all the Mid-Century Modern furniture and very stark, black-and-white, and a little bit of red, color palette,” Mindock said. “And all of the actors will have that west California sensibility to their style, to the way that they carry themselves and the way that they talk to one another.
“We’re honoring the text as it is written, but infusing how we tell the story, in what way we tell the story, with that contemporary and bold sense of a reality television series. We’re watching these characters that we probably see on the street, but we can’t possibly imagine the situations that they find themselves in, or how they speak with one another or where their morality lies.”
Spoiler alert: don’t read the online synopsis
Here’s another modern twist: the spoiler alert. Mindock said he doesn’t recommend reading the synopsis online before you come to see the play.
“The synopsis is going to spoil the end of the play, so I would encourage people not to read the synopsis,” he said. “I think there are several moments of theatre magic that surprise and shock, and are kind of the hallmark of how Springfield Contemporary Theatre does theatre — and why so many people continue to tell us that Springfield Contemporary Theatre is an important part of their work/life balance in the Ozarks.”
But, as Mindock said, even if you’ve already seen “Hedda Gabler,” this version will still entertain you.
“For those people who know Ibsen or think that they know ‘Hedda Gabler,’ be prepared to laugh,” Mindock said. “Be prepared to be challenged. Be prepared to consider your own personal relationships as they are compared to the relationships and the world that we’ve created, and the way that we tell our story.
“This play is smart and funny and compelling, and it’s unlike any other ‘Hedda Gabler’ that I know of or I think anybody will come in contact with.”
Want to go?
What: Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s “Hedda Gabler”
When: March 24-26, March 30-April 2 and April 6-9; Evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Where: SCT’s Studio Theatre, 2025 E. Chestnut Expressway, Suite D
Tickets: Adults $32, Seniors/Students $29; Opening Night $27; Student Rush $10; Pay What You Can Thursdays
For more information: Call 417-831-8001 or visit the Springfield Contemporary Theatre website.