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A CurtainUp Review
Hedda Gabler

Good-bye, Hedda Gabler
---Løvborg, Act Three
There is, as many readers are no doubt aware, another Hedda Gabler onstage in New York at the moment. As the link below will attest, moreover, I saw and reviewed it on Broadway in the very same week as this production, which is part of the Ibsen Series at The Century Center for the Performing Arts. (This series is presenting all twelve of Ibsen's "prose" plays chronologically; with Hedda, it has achieved two-thirds of its mission.)

It's unusual, indeed perhaps unprecedented, to have the opportunity to consider two stagings of the same play at such close range. And under the circumstances, I'm not going to burden readers with a lengthy repetition of the description of the play (which many have seen or at least read before anyway, and which reference to the other review can provide in any event).

Such reference will also reveal quickly that I found the Broadway production unsatisfying and in many respects wrong-headed. I couldn't be more pleased to report that this production is exceptional: better in concept, execution and performance than its uptown counterpart. For those who have seen or will see the other Hedda, I'd go another step: this production is an essential antidote.

Here we have a Hedda featuring an unselfconsciously contemporary translation by Rolf Fjeldes, directed with impeccable attention to detail by Alex Lippard. It is a production that teases the intrinsic humor out of Ibsen's work, without diminishing the force of the trenchant psychological observation that makes the play remarkable.

Ibsen's subject matter in Hedda Gabler is sexual dynamics, an expression that of course did not exist in 1890 when he wrote about it. Yet he has placed his complex anti-heroine (Blake Lindsley) at the pivot point of a constellation of three sexual triangles, the countervailing yet additive pressures of which must be understood in order to appreciate the inevitability of her self-combustion.

What Ms. Lindsley, who is certainly more than sufficiently attractive in the role, reveals under Mr. Lippard's direction is a sense of how her discoveries about each of her relationships build -- and quickly -- to what can be called the theatrical "shot heard 'round the world" with which the play ends. When her Broadway counterpart, late in the play, blurts out lines about controlling a person's destiny, it seems an act of whimsy rather than desperation. No one would accuse Lindsley's Hedda of caprice.

Lindsley renders a late 19th Century woman struggling with definitions of womanhood that will play themselves out over the following century. Her philosophical anxiety arises from her alienation from both the traditionalism of George's aunt (Barbara Haas), who sees woman as wife, mother and caregiver, and the modernity of Mrs. Elvsted (Jessica Damrow), who is willing to leave a man she does not love, take up with another and, perhaps most astonishing of all, prove her own utility. On the other hand, Hedda finds that the attention showered on her growing up as General Gabler's beautiful daughter has not translated into any real sway over men. Her impotence is devastating.

Whereas Hedda represents a ganglion of competing struggles, the key to the other principal characters is to be found in the singularity of their natures. George (Nicholas Stannard) is a stunningly simple man, bookish and respectable but an oblivious nerd. The oleaginous Judge Brack (Max Vogler) is a shifty conniver, but his is not a convoluted guile. They are markedly different creatures, but they are resolute in their ambitions and in the means to achieve them. Løvborg may be filled with doubts about himself but his character is easily diagnosed. (Today we would label him an alcoholic with bipolar disorder and be done with it.) What makes this production work is that each of these skilled performances focuses keenly on the development of unambiguously grounded characters thereby accentuating the untethered Hedda's self-obliterating shortcomings.

As with all productions in the Ibsen Series, the elegant appointments of the historic ballroom of the Century Center provide the essential backdrop. With its fireplace and ornate mouldings, it's never been more suitable than as the parlor of the new residence of George and Hedda Tesman. We feel very much at home, as would Ibsen.

The Broadway Hedda Gabler
A Doll's House
John Gabriel Borkman
Peer Gynt
The Wild Duck
The Ibsen Museum: A Postcard from Norway (feature)

Hedda Gabler
by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Rolf Fjelde
Directed by Alex Lippard
with Barbara Haas, Maxine Prescott, Nicholas Stannard, Blake Lindsley, Jessica Damrow, Max Vogler and Christopher Mullen . Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including one intermission
Century Center Ballroom Theatre, 111 East 15th Street (Union Square East/Irving Place)
Telephone (212) 982-6782
Opens October 14, 2001, closes October 28, 2001
WED - SAT @8, SUN @3; $15
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 10/12/01 performance

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