Alexander Alioto, Josh Barrett, and Michael Crane
in Brack's Last Bachelor Party
(© Carol Rosegg)
Alexander Alioto, Josh Barrett, and Michael Crane
in Brack's Last Bachelor Party
(© Carol Rosegg)
What a great idea Sam Marks had when he came up with the concept of Brack's Last Bachelor Party, now being presented by the Babel Theatre Company at 59E59 Theatres. While the work suggests the missing events that might have taken place at the fateful party in which Eilert Lovborg self-destructs in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, the play and its production does so little justice to the concept. Making matters worse, Marks gets no help from Geordie Broadwater, who has directed a cast with little regard for the chemistry between his players.

In the original masterpiece, Hedda is at home with Lovborg's current lover and collaborator, Mrs. Elvsted, while Lovborg (Michael Crane), the powerful Judge Brack (Alexander Alito, suitably menacing), and Hedda's husband, George Tesman (Josh Barrett), have gone off to the male-only party. All we know from Ibsen when they leave for the party is that Lovborg has already dangerously begun to drink and that he intends to read his groundbreaking treatise to Tesman, a book that portends to be so brilliant that should it be published, Lovberg might win the teaching appointment that has previously been promised to Tesman.

As Marks' play begins, we are already at the party in a private room where Tesman sits with mouth agape having heard the first chapter of Lovborg's manuscript. Disdainful and unimpressed, Tesman tells his rival that his book is "horrid." He complains that Lovborg's vision of the future is far too bleak. They argue. And right here the new play begins to fail. Crane possesses none of the fire or charisma so often associated with his character, and his attempt at being intellectually superior only comes across as a sort of languid affectation. By contrast, Barrett's Tesman seems far more passionate and animated, although he remains a middlebrow twit as Ibsen intended. So while we expect fireworks from Lovborg at this party -- everything in Ibsen's play points toward it -- it is really Tesman who is the explosive character.

After reading more of Lovborg's manuscript, Tesman falls so under the spell of his rival's work that he begins to see his own bleak future. There might have been something genuinely revelatory in these scenes (which are well lit by Simon Cleveland to set them apart as dream sequences), but Marks overreaches as Tesman imagines an unhappy woman named Emma (Crystal Fin), smoking cigarettes and talking on her cell phone as a baby cries in the background. The play simply doesn't support this jarring leap into modern times. Moreover, Fin's performance as Emma is so purposefully outside the world of this play that one has no compass by which to follow her.

In the end, one is truly disappointed that such a good idea for a play has gone so badly.