If you have seen “Hedda Gabler” before, you might not be
compelled to see this Ibsen classic again. But the production at the Hartford
Stage so pulses with electricity and Roxanna Hope is so devilishly intriguing
and beautiful in the role of the scheming, frustrated Hedda, that this play
demands your attendance. Ms. Hope captures the twists and turns of this complex
character with menace and maniacal humor that fascinates. Ibsen was the first
playwright to deal with psychological problems and insights with a special
understanding of women, who at that time had little control over their lives.
He was ahead of his time. When “Hedda Gabler” was first shown in 1890, it was
panned; by 1900 it was praised.
Here, adapted by John Robin Baitz, author of the marvelous play
“Other Desert Cities”,from a literal
translation by Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey, and directed by Jennifer
Tarver, the characters, costumed exquisitely by Fabio Toblini, shine. We meet
them in Christiana, Norway, at the new home of George and Hedda Tesman, who
have just returned from a six month honeymoon in Europe. Hedda, who plays with her father's pistols,
has challenged all to try and understand who she really is: Monster or maiden? The daughter of a wealthy general whom she
adored, she has married the milquetoast academic specialist, George because her
options ran out. John Patrick Hayden does the best he can with this thankless
part. She is bored to tears by his obsession with the classics. He dances to
her tune, buying her a large luxurious home, which he can only afford if he
wins a prized professorship. His devoted aunt, Julia (Kandis Chappell), has
decorated it for them and has even given Hedda her maid, Berta (the
entertaining Anne O'Sullivan).
In the first scenes Hedda, who does not seem to have a
compassionate bone in her body, manages
to insult both the good auntie and the frightened maid. Subsequently, she is
cruel to her old school chum, Thea. In
many Ibsen plays, there is a confidante lurking around, waiting to make trouble.
In this case, it is Judge Brack, a part Thomas Jay Ryan makes his own. The
Judge wants more than a friendly relationship with Hedda, something this
despicable but moral woman does not want. The plot thickens when the reformed
Eieler Lovborg, one of Hedda's former lovers, returns to Christiana. Sam
Redford, a big man, brings power and passion to Lovborg, who has written a successful
book, and is in some competition with George.
Sara Topham is effective as the hysterical Thea Elvsted; she has left
her husband and followed Lovborg in order to protect him from the sins of drink
Lovborg shares a new manuscript with George, who finds it
brilliant. Egged on by Hedda and Brack, he falls off the wagon, loses the
manuscript and commits suicide with one of Hedda's pistols. All the while,
Hedda has in her possession the precious manuscript and burns it so that her
husband will have no problem winning his job. And there's the rub. I found
Eugene Lee's set design a little wanting. The stove is an important component
in the story, and it should be larger and more centered on stage. The
scaffolding is terribly modern and does not serve much purpose. Robert
Thompson's lighting is also a little odd. When the curtains are opened, there
seems to be no sunlight coming through the windows.
However, the Hartford Stage production of “Hedda
Gabler,”which will play only through September 23, is
clear and courageous and worthy of award.