Guns, blindness, sex, lies – and butter. In "The Wild Duck", Ibsen offers up his usual mélange of misery and hysteria, but laces it with a healthy dose of domestic (can I say it?) happiness.
Much of the play takes place at the quiet level of the everyday. We feel along with the Ekdal family through the ordinary joys of making a little money, having a snack, and indulging in a daydream. Hialmar (Kevin Gudahl) works as a photographer, his long-ago ambitions to intellectual greatness largely forgotten. His wife Gina (Mary Beth Fisher) takes care of the practicalities of running a household and a business. Their gentle, imaginative fourteen-year old daughter (Laura Scheinbaum) brings her parents nothing but joy.
Enter Gregers Werle (Jay Whittaker), son of a wealthy and powerful businessman (John Reeger) whose control of the impoverished Ekdals has been both a curse and a blessing. An intense and slightly crazy young man, Gregers willingly enters into the family’s vivid fantasy world (centered on the eponymous duck, which lives upstairs in a makeshift forest of discarded Christmas trees), but his deep attachment to Hialmar proves disastrous.
Featuring a cast of eleven and clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, "The Wild Duck" is a hefty play. Happily, the Court Theatre’s current production suffers from few of the difficulties attendant on such an ambitious project. Under Charles Newell’s direction, the cast approaches Richard Nelson’s fresh translation with vigor and generosity. Ibsen’s characters, especially Gregers and Hialmar, are hopelessly wrapped up in their own delusions. It takes real vision to treat these characters with sympathy, and to present "The Wild Duck"’s stark conclusion not as the inevitable outcome of character flaws, but as the tragic destruction of a loving, if imperfect, family.