Apparently he couldn't play the flute. In Ibsen's The Wild Duck, Hjalmar Ekdal renders "with sentimental expression" a brief passage from a Bohemian folk-dance. In the Adams House version he is about to let loose when the door conveniently swings open, and we never hear a note.
Such problems abound in James Burt's production of The Wild Duck. But even if there are faults more glaring than the lack of flute music, they can't cripple a show so liberally marked with hard work and competence. Ibsen is not often staged at Harvard; drama students read him and study him, but rarely see him or perform him. Now Adams House has tackled one of his most difficult plays and come out, if precariously, on top.
For Ibsen, The Wild Duck was something of a dramatic non-sequitur. In it he consciously defied the vital premise of much of his earlier (and later) work; that truth must inevitably conquer falsehood. Ekdal, the central character, has lost both fortune and prestige in a grisly episode involving his father's illegal use of government lumber. The father, a broken man, is surviving on the charity of his guilty old friend Werle, who was also involved in the scandal but was acquitted for lack of evidence. In the last 15 years, both Ekdal and his father have built a new life on deception; Hjalmar has married, without knowing that his wife was once the mistress of his benefactor Werle, or that his daughter may in fact be Werle's child. Lt. Ekdal, the father, finds happiness in hunting, even though the only animals he hunts are tame rabbits in an attic.
All these deceptions are summed up in the title character, or, if you prefer, title bird. It is a wild duck, but it lives inside. And the question posed by Ibsen's play is whether such an incongruity should not be permitted to last even when it fosters happiness, whether innocence cannot sometimes be desirable.
There now. What more could you ask in the way of incisive plot summary and analysis?
At Adams House the symbolism is suitably accented. Whenever a character should chance to mention the wild duck, he does so in deeply serious tones. And when Hedvig, the Ekdals' daughter, talks about the duck and the dog which fetched it out of the water, she talks as if, yes, true insight is something known only to youth.
Elizabeth Traube, who plays Hedvig, imparts a lot of energy to the role. What's more, she is a convincing 14-year-old. But she sometimes sounds a notch too intelligent even for such an obviously precocious girl, while sometimes her movements seem overly childish.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Bill Hart as Lt. Ekdal has mastered an old man's gait and mannerisms. Mastered them so well, in fact, that he seems out of place next to several less plausible old men.
Alan Richards, as young Ekdal, is on the verge of a well-formed characterization. He has the arrogance and naivete down pat; what he lacks becomes obvious in the last act, when Ekdal must react to his daughter's death. Richards' only reaction is to raise his voice, which gives quantity but not quality to his emotion.
Randall Darwall's set appears unable to decide whether it wants to be stylized or realistic. But it works.