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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
HEDDA GABLER
at the American Airlines Theatre

THE MODERNIZATION OF HEDDA
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Michael Cerveris and Mary-Louise Parker/Ph: Nigel Parry

What's behind Ian Rickson's highly unpopular revival, which seems to want to transplant Ibsen's classic story of a bored, unhappily-married 19th-century beauty into a nebulous but stylishly gloomy modernity, replete with Brocade Home furnishings and P.J. Harvey music? We may never know, but to hazarding a guess, it must be said that there's a certain twisted charm to the modernization of the character herself. Mary Louise Parker's querulous, bitchy Hedda seems like a Goth Mean Girl with her sepulchral pallor, trailing gowns, and self-interested demands. And indeed, Hedda's willful, petty nastiness-pretending to think her husband's aunt's hat belongs to the maid shrilly reminding her husband of the conditions of their "bargain," (i.e., marriage) - does lend itself to being delivered in the clipped, bored monotone of a 21st-century spoiled brat.

Unfortunately, alas, though brattiness may be timeless, the rest of the play, even as clunkily adapted by playwright Christopher Shinn (who drops or distorts some of the play's most iconic, and most telling, lines), doesn't accommodate this modernization. Beyond the most pragmatic questions it raises-why doesn't the brilliant bohemian Eilert Lovberg (flatly played by Paul Sparks) have a copy of his world-changing manuscript? How is it that the scandal-fearing Hedda manages to shoot at so many people without reprisal?-the problem strikes directly at the play's heart. Hedda's dilemma is too much the product of her specific place and time to make sense in this murky kind-of-like-the-present-almost framework. Inviting the audience to see her as a contemporary just leads us to wonder why she doesn't have an affair, get a job, become Eva Peron. Without the social forces that created and confined her-the constrained role of an upper-class 19th-century Scandinavian lady, the limited freedoms of an academic wife-Hedda is, indeed, basically a brat, rather than a victim of any very convincing circumstance.

Nor do the other characters improve with time travel. While Judge Brack (Peter Stormare) remains Machiavellian in his machinations to insert himself into a triangle with Hedda and her husband, the supposedly dashing Lovberg comes across as sullen and inarticulate and the life-giving selfless Thea is played by Ana Reeder like an unhinged hysteric with a particularly grating voice. Michael Cerveris does the most interesting job with his unexpectedly sympathetic portrayal of the stodgy academic Tesman-as a man who, however much he misunderstands his wife, is, at least, trying to do good, and who harbors a genuine and ultimately unselfish passion for knowledge. But his likeability renders Hedda all the less appealing. Without a context that convincingly condemns her to her stultified boredom, she seems more narcissistic curiosity than tragic heroine.

 


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