You don't have to be an Ibsen scholar to recognize him in the shadowy melancholy of the Norwegian playwright's 'The Wild Duck, ' a solid TheatreWorks production of a dusty work, which is in its final weekend.
In this adaptation by David Eldridge, Gregors Werle (Jon Barker) returns to his wealthy father's home after a self-imposed exile among the common man.
Wound tight and a zealot for his own impossible ideas, Gregors is all kinds of unhappy. He hates his father Hakon (Dan Mason); idealizes his long-dead mother; and is sickened by the everyday delusions that prop up most people's lives.
Perhaps the most self-bamboozled in 'The Wild Duck ' is Gregors' old friend Hjalmar Ekdal (Philip Guerette). Hjalmar isn't rich, but he's happy with wife Gina (Lija Fisher), daughter Hedwig (Eleanor Sturt) and doddering father Old Ekdal (Sol Chavez). Hjalmar tells Gregors he's also on the verge of discovering an invention so dear that it will save his family from their meager existence. What Hjalmar doesn't know is that his family's contentment is built on a foundation of lies.
'In my house, ' Hjalmar admonishes Gregors, 'no one talks to me about things that aren't nice. '
And Gregors won't have it. An idealist who believes deceit is the enemy of real bliss, Gregors sets about exposing the moral skulduggery - including the fact that his father Hakon married off Gina, his former housemaid, to Hjalmar in order to cover up the fact that Hedwig was really Hakon's daughter.
In the cleansing light of the truth, Gregors reasons, the Ekdals will be free to forgive and start anew.
When it was originally produced in 1884, 'The Wild Duck, ' which refers a crippled duck in Hedvig's care, was following a long line of scandalous plays by Henrik Ibsen - from 'Brand ' and 'A Doll's House ' to 'Ghosts ' and 'An Enemy of the People. ' As with his many of other works, it explored false morality, mindless conformity and female power as well reflecting his own less spotted personal history. It is perhaps the most layered and complex of his work to that date.
Director Murray Ross led his small cast of stage veterans to some really excellent performances set against Russell Parkman's imagistic and engaging set.
Equity actors Barker, who played Gregors, Guerette (the hangdog Hjalmar), and Fisher (the resourceful Gina) delivered believable characters with all the appearance of inner lives. Barker had the pyrotechnics, Guerette the soulfulness and Fisher ... well, she was all granite under a seductive compliance.
As usual these days, Sol Chavez was a stand-out - this time as Old Ekdal, once a proud man who was unjustly ruined by his business partner, Hakon Werle. Chavez has been in many productions this season, and with no two characters looking all that much alike. He inhabits his men (and one woman in the Fine Arts Center's 'Prelude to a Kiss ') with such commitment and a physical specificity that every performance stands alone.
Still - and here's the paradox of theater - 'The Wild Duck ' wasn't my favorite TheatreWorks production in a season of many good ones. Why? The moral structure that Ibsen rails against in 'The Wild Duck ' felt anachronistic, an intellectual exercise that was interesting and often poetic, but, ultimately, didn't resonate with a culture as far from Victorianism as that injured wild duck was from ever being free.
You can reach T.D. Mobley-Martinez at 476-1602.
“THE WILD DUCK”
Playwright: David Eldridge from original by Henrik Ibsen
Director: Murray Ross
Cast: Jon Barker, Philip Guerette, Lija Fisher, Dan Mason, Amy Brooks, Sol Chavez, Tom Paradise, Steve Wallace and others
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through May 12
Where: The Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 3955 Regent Circle
Tickets: $35, $15 children 5-15; 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org.