Beyond time and clime, The Wild Duck has universal appeal. The play explores the world of the Ekdals, a family whose peaceful existence is fragmented and destroyed in the name of "truth." It is both disturbing and challenging.
The drama holds layers of meanings. Besides its poetic and symbolic appeal, the theme is realistic. It highlights the true nature of the institution of marriage, the dilemma of humans caught between nature and culture, and the havoc wrought by too much idealism in solving existential crises. Love is highlighted as the fundamental basis of human relations. It is love that should be the be all and end all of life or else tragic loss of innocence is inevitable. Even when a Norwegian play with its original setting is transplanted onto a stage in Kerala, the powerful theme makes the spectators feel at home.
Into this happy world enters Gregers Werle, an old school friend of Hjalmer Ekdal. He is the estranged son of the wealthy industrialist, Werle who has destroyed the Ekdal family. Gregers is a hopeless idealist bent on his mission of "The demand of the Ideal." His life had taught him that a home is built on a lie, that a sweet home is built in a swamp of deceit, that a happy home is a delusion. For him, "the foundation of marriage should be a real companionship founded on truth, purged of falsehood." He who knew the past of his father, puts two and two together. Off the stage, during a walk he is ruthless enough to tell his old friend that in reality senior Werle supports the Ekdals. For, he was responsible for sending the army officer to jail. In fact Hedvig, whom Hjalmer Ekdal considers his daughter, is senior Werle's illegitimate child. The blindness that threatens the girl is a family inheritance.
A frustrated Hjalmer confronts his wife, Gina. She challenges him with another reality. The rich hounding the poor is the norm in this world; men seducing women, a common feature. Yet life can be lived happily in spite of human flaws. A child is part of a home who should be allowed to live in peace. Hjalmer is too distraught to listen to practical wisdom: that ordinary mortals need to live their lives, that happiness is needed even if it comes from delusions, that make-believe has been the stimulating principle of existence. Meanwhile to redeem a sinful past, senior Werle sends a letter announcing his decision to bequeath a handsome sum for the comfort of old Ekdal and his granddaughter who is turning blind. Hjalmer, going through the ups and downs of emotional trauma, rejects the offer as bribe.
Hedvig, unable to cope with the loss of her father's love, succumbs to the solution suggested by the beastly idealist, Gregers Werle. He persuades her to sacrifice the duck, her most precious possession, to prove her love for her father. Hedvig enters the garret to shoot the duck but ends by killing herself. Wisdom dawns late for the men. The domestic drama comes to a tragic waste with the sacrifice of an innocent girl.
The wild duck, as the title suggests is central to the play with a heavy load of symbolism. The symbolism comes alive in different ways. On the stage underneath the table, a toy duck is seen. When the story of the wild duck is narrated, it sounds like a folklore giving a poetic dimension to the play. How the Ekdals came to posses it and love it is central to the symbolic level of the drama. Old Ekdal figures as the wild duck in having been betrayed by his partner, senior Werle. Like the wounded duck, he has sunk into his reveries never to return. Dramatic techniques used point how Mrs. Gina Ekdal is still limping as if she could never be cured from the fatal hunt. Gregers tells Hjalmer that he is like the wild duck in his entrapment in the "poisonous marshes" of his household. Lastly both Gregers and Hedvig, one legitimate, the other illegitimate, children of Werle too are wild ducks, lonely and alienated carrying the burden of secret crimes.
The wild duck
continues to live, is very significant at the symbolic level. Hjalmar wants
to kill it; Hedvig tries, but kills herself instead. Like the wild duck
she loses her family and place of origin. Do we carry the wild duck in
Koshi) and music (Satyajit) have added to the charm and power of the production.
The beginning itself is an arresting visual. From the darkness emerges
an optical drama accompanied by stormy winds on a wild terrain. A phantom,
bathed in red light, moves in stylised steps towards the centre. Twisting
strings in its hands, it stands in the middle of an oval, and arrows flicker
from its circumference. Amidst suggested violence, the prologue presents
a blind man, to the point of utter nakedness, pulling strings so that people
on the stage move like automatons. Mime, gesture and movement weaving a
seamless tapestry in orchestrated luminosity against soul-stirring mourning,
projects a visual metaphor. These distorted forms controlled by hidden
strings constitute the characters of the play. Loud lamentations, powerfully
evocative, underscore their misery. We sense the tone and tenor of the
Padma Jayaraj is a freelance journalist. She covers fine arts and travel for The Hindu, and is a regular contributor to narthaki.com