Review - Hedda Gabler: Art Isn't Easy
I don't know if Carol Burnett ever spoofed Hedda Gabler on her celebrated television variety show, but if she did I'm sure her reaction to a major plot twist late in Ibsen's 1890 drama would have been somewhat similar to Mary-Louise Parker's bug-eyed, open-mouthed, head-shaking, hands on cheeks shtick that drew appreciative howls from the audience at the press performance I attended. I suppose such an acting choice is consistent with a production that frequently has Michael Cerveris, as her bland academic husband, Jorgen Tesman, flashing goofy grins at his new bride while Paul Sparks, as her ex-lover, Eljert Lovborg, emotionlessly barks out his words of passion. Meanwhile, Peter Stormare, as the manipulative Judge Brack, appears to be playing "Where's Waldo" with his sing-songy accent. (I lost count, but I believe this production has more accents than characters.)
While any mounting of Ibsen's psychological exploration of a woman rebelling against suffocating societal restraints can use a little levity to ease the dramatic tension - and I'll credit this one for not going as far as last season's laff-riot Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - Christopher Shinn's new adaptation, perhaps in an attempt to interpret the title character as a modern woman trapped in an antiquated world, has Hedda expressing much of her angst by dropping dry, contemporary-voiced wisecracks that get laughs from sounding anachronistic in her peroid surroundings. ("Were you worried about me?" Cerveris asks after coming home late. "No, that wouldn't have occurred to me," Park aridly replies.) Director Ian Rickson responds with a toneless, tensionless mounting that skims the surface of the story for quick laughs, sexed-up visuals and various titters along the way, highlighted by a quick, lusty moment where Hedda seems to be having trouble unbuttoning Lovborg fly, so she just grabs his hand and shoves it under her skirt.
In another scene, Shinn boils down the judge's desire to leave Hedda's home via a shortcut though her garden to this giggle-inducing exchange:
"You're going the back way?"
"Yes, I prefer back ways."
This comes after a bit of business where Stormare simulates an erection with his top hat.
And, without revealing the ending, let's just say that a body part usually translated as "stomach" or "bowels" has now been identified as "groin."
While Mary-Louise Parker rarely varies from her bored Goth girl monotone, she's playing the script that was handed to her. And if there was a Tony Award for looking stunning she'd definitely be a contender for the way she looks in Ann Roth's gorgeous blood red gown and a divine black number. The best feature of Hildegard Bechtler's otherwise perfunctory set is a long, rectangular mirror angled above a drawing room couch that beautifully frames the protagonist as she's reclining (bare-butted) at the play's commencement. P.J. Harvey's overly dramatic music is more intrusive than mood enhancing.
Perhaps at one point during the gestation of this production there was a very interesting new take on an old classic in the works. But every now and then a group of talented theatre people get together and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work. What can you do? It happens.