Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hedda Gabler

O, death, where is thy sting? This revival of Hedda Gabler is death personified, but Mary-Louise Parker’s Hedda has no sting. What a waste of Ibsen’s complex play.

Under the direction of Ian Rickson (who directed the acclaimed recent Broadway production of The Seagull), Parker takes Hedda’s boredom to such an extreme that Hedda doesn’t even appear to delight in one of her only pleasures -- her cruelty to others. She’s a Hedda desperately in need of Prozac.

Unfortunately, the entire production is as stiff as the 1880s Norway that is suffocating Hedda. The only member of the cast who captures any essence of his character is Michael Cerveris, who plays Hedda's dull professor-husband, Jorgen Tesman. Ana Reeder portrays Thea Elvsted more as a giddy schoolgirl than the disappointed woman stuck in a loveless marriage and Peter Stormare’s Judge Brack (in photo with Parker) is a buffoon. With his bawdy gestures he’s sleazy and repulsive, but not sinister, which this character must be. Paul Sparks as the doomed writer Ejlert Lovborg; Lois Markle as maid Berte and Helen Carey as Miss Juliane Tesman, Tesman's aunt, are serviceable.

Not only are the characters re-imagined in this production, the script is as well. Christopher Shinn's new adaptation updates the language to make it more contemporary, but I missed the familiar words, especially the final sentence which Shinn, a well-respected playwright whose drama Dying City was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has changed to “Who would do such a thing?” from “People don’t do such things.” It’s far more fitting for Judge Brack to comment on what is proper because the idea of what people can and can’t do is what is so stifling for Hedda. That far better conveys the oppressiveness of Hedda’s conventional society.

Hildegard Bechtler’s stark set conveys the barrenness of Hedda’s life, but with its open, warehouse feeling fails to suggest the claustrophobic feeling that should surround Hedda. Natasha Katz’s lighting captures the dark and ominous quality of the play and Ann Roth’s costumes are appropriate to the period.

When I last saw Hedda Gabler it was the intriguing 2001 Broadway production with Kate Burton. I hope the next time Hedda is resuscitated, it will be presented in a more involving way than this current version.

Hedda Gabler, a Roundabout Theatre Company production, is playing at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., through March 29. Tickets, ranging from $66.50 to $111.50, are available through the American Airlines box office, by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212)719-1300 or visiting www.roundabouttheatre.org. For further information, visit heddaonbroadway.com.

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