The case of the meddlesome moralist -- alias Ibsen's 'Wild Duck'

The Wild Duck', Play by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Thomas Babe, from a translation by Erik J. Friis. Directed by Arthur Penn. Presented and performed by the Brooklyn Academy of Music Theater Company.

"The Wild Duck" is not one of Ibsen's best plays. The plot is cluttered and -- well, plotty. Ibsen's interesting thoughts, about the frailty of character and the pervasiveness of the past, get somewhat swamped by the welter of events.

Yet there are many touching and keenly dramatic moments in this tale of a meddlesome moralist who mangles the family life of a friend, in the name of truth and honesty. The new production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music captures many of these strengths, building enough momentum to carry us past the stories lumpier episodes.The result is, on balance, an absorbing experience. Yet it would be still more powerful were it not for a few bothersome distractions --which are, unfortunately, built into the very heart of the show.

One is the text chosen by the BAM Theater Company, a "new version" of the play by Thomas Babe.In his effort to contemporize the drama's language, Babe relies on colloquiaisms and even vulgarisms that stand out glaringly from the fabric of the work. And then there's the performance of Frank Maraden in the key role of Ekdal -- a mannered and angular performance that strives so hard to project sincerity and confusion that it ends up seeming downright patronizing.

Happily, an impressive energy is generated by the ensemble as a whole, and in most instances, the drama and the company are able to sail over the rough spots. Credit goes to director Arthur Penn, a veteran of film and theater who is apparently trying his hand at a classic for the first time, to generally convincing effect. And there are excellent players such as Michael Gross, Joan Pape, and the young Tenney Walsh. Together, they pretty much conquer what might have been rough odds, bringing "The Wild Duck" to life vig orously, if not exactly swimmingly.

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