Shall We Read A Play Together?

Marvels continue to visit my life. Gregor Samsa is a bookstore on the Oudburg, owned by Harry from the UK. Last night nine of us sat there in a circle and read the play Hedda Gabler, written by the Norwegian playright Henrik Ibsen in 1891. I’ve never done such a thing.

There were four acts. At the beginning of each, Harry asked us what part we wanted to play. I got to be a shallow husband, a conniving judge, and the person giving stage directions. So cool!

Here’s a sample of the characters, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Newly married and bored with both her marriage and life” (Hedda)

“An academic who is as interested in research and travel as he is enamoured with his wife” [more actually] (George)

“Desperately wants Hedda and her nephew to have a child” (Aunt Julie)

“Nervous and shy, in an unhappy marriage” (Thea)

“An unscrupulous family friend” (Judge Brack)

“Destroyed his reputation in society by spending his money on depravity” (Eilert)

I had to read plays in high school. Even if I understood all the words, digesting these works was usually a tedious task. “Just tell me what I need to know for the exam.” As an adult, the number of plays I’ve read is approximately zero. Lots of novels, but the constant dialogue in plays wasn’t for me. (I said)

And then there was a circle of human beings, surrounded by tall bookshelves and accompanied by various beverages. I got to inhabit George, not just read his words. Inhabit someone I didn’t like. Spouting on and on about his oh so essential research into a tiny slice of life. Hardly a kind look over to Hedda. A world away from cuddling on the couch.

Oh … it was rock and roll! Stilted language grew in my mouth into a vacant tone of voice. Who cares if George was thoroughly not me? During Act 1, Bruce be damned! Bring on George. And so it was with my literary companions. I could feel each of us, page by page, growing into our parts. Sometimes the voice was strident, at other times a whisper. The stand-ins for Hedda and George often glanced across the room at their adversary. This was no longer Ghent. We were home in Oslo.

It took us nearly three hours to read Hedda Gabler. Time well spent. As the last words on the last page were spoken, we the people sitting in Gregor Samsa burst into applause.

A fine time was had by all.

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