Hedda Gabler marks Southern’s 100th


Annie Enneking in the title role in Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” at the Southern Theater.

The Southern Theater in Minneapolis will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its opening on March 2. And in part to honor that anniversary, this weekend it’s bringing Henrik Ibsen’s classic “Hedda Gabler” to the stage.

The Southern was built in 1910 as a cultural center and theater for the burgeoning Scandinavian community, featuring vaudeville shows, silent movies for kids and plays by Strindberg in the original Swedish. Director Genevieve Bennett likes to think Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler might have also been one of the productions produced in the Southern’s early days.

There’s something exciting about the idea that the ghosts of those performers get to mix with the cast that’s doing it now. That space is just so filled with history, and I love that we’re taking something from the past and bringing it into the present.

Bennett recognizes that Hedda Gabler might not seem like a logical choice for a centennial celebration (For those of you who haven’t seen the play, Hedda Gabler is a an unhappy woman whose situation goes from bad to worse over the course of the play). But Bennett says it’s a drama that fits our time.

I’m kind of on a crusade to stage these modern plays by Ibsen and Chekhov because I think they have a relevance. Too often they’re done as museum pieces and the life that’s churning underneath them gets ignored.

Bennett says Hedda Gabler is regularly labeled a “feminist play.” While women’s liberation certainly has a role to play in the story, she thinks the question it raises is far more universal. Namely “what happens to a person’s soul when the life they imagine for themselves and the life that they end up in are two radically different things?”

Bennett says it’s not hard to see the connection between Hedda and the modern day American worker who is suddenly finding him- or herself out of work, or having to foreclose on a home. Because of the economic crisis, Bennett says there’s a growing gap between our dreams and our realities.

Hopefully what happens to Hedda’s soul is not what happens to the rest of us. She doesn’t have the ability or the will to overcome her circumstances, so as a result she unleashes her wrath on the people around her that are able to live the lives they want. And she does that from a position of self-loathing and desperation.

Hedda Gabler has been at times called a “female Hamlet,” a prototype feminist, a victim, and a villain. Bennet says for her, Gabler is a mesmerizing character. And she’s excited at the thought of seeing this play staged at the Southern Theater.

I can’t think of when a classical play has been done at the Southern, and I’m really excited about bringing that work to that space. It will bring new people to the Southern, and will introduce Southern regulars to a different kind of show.

And maybe a few ghosts of days past will pay a visit to see the show as well.

Hedda Gabler runs February 11 – 14 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

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