New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Hedda Gabler"
American Airlines Theater

Beware dividers who claim to be uniters. Spoiled and self-centered, they’ll do anything to get attention, quite upending everyone in their orbit. Case in point: Hedda Gabler, the titular character in Henrik Ibsen’s play, blithely and wantonly damages whatever she can. Both productions have their merits but neither explodes.

Married to someone she considers a boob, in love with someone she can’t have and in thrall to a conniver who knows her secrets, Hedda is the ur-text of modern desperate housewives. No wonder she’s a mess. In the hands of Mary-Louise Parker, she’s like a hostess who deliberately puts out the wrong china while forcing her guests to play a game of musical chairs. It’s a purposely unnerving portrayal of a bored woman that might have worked better if she and her fellow actors were on the same page. But, alas, under Ian Rickson’s direction, the performers are astray.

Ibsen’s 19th-century play is one of the first truly psychological dramas we have. But melodrama was king back then and this production has too many moments that devolve into mustache-twirling, robbing the work of intimacy, surprise and, yes, modernity.

Depressed by her hasty marriage to dull academic Jørgen Tesman (“My time was up,” she says), Hedda resorts to petty cruelty, like making fun of doting Aunt Juliane. When she discovers that her friend Thea has been helping ex-lover Ejlert Løvborg write what is sure to be a highly regarded book, Hedda is unleashed.

Angry and frustrated, she first tries to seduce Ejlert, even though her husband is in the next room. Then she schemes to ruin her ex, all the while ironically trying to avoid scandal and escape the clutches of the randy Judge Brack. Whatever else it is or isn’t, this is the most sex-starved Hedda you’re likely to see.

Christopher Shinn’s new colloquial translation emphasizes Hedda’s chaotic nature as opposed to husband Jørgen (an excellent Michael Cerveris) who says, “To bring order is precisely what my talent is.” It’s a telling but blatant line, an indication that the evening skims the surface of a play that ought to be more of a puzzle that engages the audience rather than a that’s-all-there-is portrait of a neurasthenic.

-- David A. Rosenberg
Feb. 22, 2009

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