19th-century Physick House sets scene for production of 19th-century ‘Hedda Gabler’

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 Jennifer Summerfield (left), as Hedda, and Jessica DalCanton as Thea rehearse a fight scene from Hedda Gabler in the historic Physick House in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Jennifer Summerfield (left), as Hedda, and Jessica DalCanton as Thea rehearse a fight scene from Hedda Gabler in the historic Physick House in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia theater company will stage a 19th-century play in one of Society Hill’s historic 19th-century mansions. “Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen was groundbreaking in 1890 as a form of theatrical realism, but relatively little seen today.

The play will be produced for a two-week run at the Physick House, an early 19th-century mansion on Fourth Street that is now a designated historic site, filled with period furniture and décor. The drawing room has space for just 30 seated audience members.

“I like authenticity in theater. I like theater in an intimate space, and I like detail,” said producer Kyle Cassidy. “When I go to a play and somebody’s writing a letter, I want to see if they are writing something they should be writing. I want to see what books are on stage and if they are appropriate.”

Immediately following the short run, Cassidy will shoot the same cast in the same house for a film version of the story. With rehearsed actors and a permanent set, Cassidy said that not to would be a wasted opportunity.

It as an opportunity nearly lost two years ago when Cassidy’s Laurel Tree Productions staged Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown. Following the run of the play, he threw together a film production as an afterthought.

“What can we do with much more planning involved in the beginning?” wondered Cassidy, who successfully campaigned for $10,000 on Kickstarter to pay for both “Hedda Gabler” productions.

Cassidy is a Philadelphia photographer best known for his 2007 book “Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes.” He is also something of a man about town, having collaborated with musicians, artists, writers, and sundry celebrities, some of whom have come forward to help with Hedda.

He asked Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” to be bait. Sagal will fly out from Chicago to appear at an after party for donors.

“The great thing about Kyle — who I think is an unsung hero in Philadelphia — is he’s got himself plugged into all kinds of worlds — music, science fiction, film, and public radio if you include me,” said Sagal. “He’s an amazing photographer, and he’s really, really nice. He’s somebody you meet, and you want to hang out with him.”

Sagal is a theater buff and a great fan of Ibsen (“I wouldn’t be doing this if he was doing a Eugene O’Neill play, because I hate Eugene O’Neill.”) His own play, “Denial,” premiered in New York in 2007, and he co-wrote the film “Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.” He says “Hedda Gabler” set the course for modern theater.

“It was about psychologically difficult people who did things for complex reasons,” said Sagal. “That makes for interesting theater.”

As a favor to his friend Cassidy, whom he first met in 2012 at a Chicago Literary Hall of Fame event, Sagal agreed to host an after party with donors on Friday.

Also helping out with the project are Joel Hodgson, of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame, who will sit for an onstage interview following the performance on Dec. 19, and science fiction writer Emma Bull (“War for the Oaks”), who wrote a ghost story loosely based on “Hedda Gabler,” to be filmed by Cassidy as a DVD extra.

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