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Roundabout Theatre Company Brings Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" to American Airlines Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Brings Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" to American Airlines Theatre

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Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director

Hedda Gabler
(Roundabout Production Website)
By Henrik Ibsen
New Adaptation by Christopher Shinn
Literal Translation by Anne-Charlotte Harvey

Starring: Mary Louise Parker, Michael Cerveris
Paul Sparks, and Peter Stormare
With: Lois Markle, Ana Reeder, and Helen Carey

Directed by Ian Rickson

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street

Set Design: Hildegard Bechtler
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: John Gromada
Original Music: PJ Harvey
Makeup & Hair Design: Ivana Primorac
Wig Design: Peter Owen
Production Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA and Stephen Kopel
General Manager: Rebecca Habel
Technical Supervision: Steve Beers
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Marketing - Sales Promotions: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 28, 2009

More often than not, my mind gravitates to recent, riveting theatre. In the case of Roundabout Theatre Company’s new revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, the production was difficult to conjure. In fact, while watching the performance, of individual characters wandering a too-large stage for such immediate and intimate emotionality, I felt a strange sense of unease. Mary-Louise Parker, as Hedda, appeared as a neurotic Norwegian newlywed, lost in a maze of madness, trapped in someone else’s world. I vividly remembered this masterpiece and had looked forward to its new staging. Yet, not one character seamlessly merged into the space of another, as they sharply targeted each other’s raw nerves; not until the end of the play, when Hedda’s stodgy and scholarly husband, Jørgen Tesman (Michael Cerveris), found his soul-mate, the whiny, immature Mrs. Elvsted (Ana Reeder), and their newly compacted space shut out the implosive, impulsive Hedda.

Hedda Gabler had been a woman of means, once dominated by her late father, General Gabler, but the dynamics of that relationship are left to the viewer’s assumption, as Hedda is constantly punishing every man in her orbit. In fact, Hedda punishes her husband’s aunt, Miss Tesman (Helen Carey), insulting the woman who helped her nephew acquire the very expansive house that Hedda and Jørgen now inhabit. Hedda opens the action, throwing linens, flowers, and Miss Tesman’s hat to the floor, in child-like fits of despair. Hedda punishes Jørgen in uncontrollable abuse, as she detested their extensive honeymoon, during which he researched ceramic relics of the Middle Ages. She further enacts revenge by flirting and sexually cavorting with an old flame that happens by, Ejlert Løvborg (Paul Sparks), and then she enacts the ultimate revenge on this could-have-been lover, by burning his brilliant manuscript, one that could help him compete with the scholarly career that Tesman has paved.

Hedda does not stop at book-burning, and she torments Tesman with the possibility of pregnancy, to subdue his anger at her secret arson. In quick speed, Hedda bonds with the two objects of her devilish desire, her father’s twin pistols, conveniently available and in sight. She gives one to Løvborg, with liquor, as well, and urges him to put an end to his grief. The second pistol, she reserves for herself. Three other characters suffer Hedda’s fiendish fire: Judge Brack (Peter Stormare) misses being shot on arrival and later misses being Hedda’s lifelong gatekeeper and predator, a twist on the tortured legalities of Løvborg's death; Mrs. Thea Elvsted, mentioned above, was Løvborg's mistress, until his demise; and Berte, the maid (Lois Markle), was a minor, but mistreated bystander. Mary-Louise Parker, on Ian Rickson’s direction, was more than psychically alienated. She was purposefully vexatious, a woman who obviously would have been better suited to Løvborg. If she couldn’t have him, Mrs. Elvsted couldn’t either. But Hedda’s edge was too sharp, too sour, too irritating.

Although sets and costumes were grandiose, the staging at American Airlines Theatre, in all its massive dimensions, was, as above, fragmented, with the cast like oil and water, characters rarely blending in mood or moment. Two exceptions of connected characters were in the erotic play of Løvborg and Hedda and in the reparation of the lost manuscript, binding Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted. Even when Hedda’s internal hell climactically ends, offstage, Tesman and Judge Brack seem passionless, transfixed, studied. With such performance potential for mesmerizing theatre, Ian Rickson (Director) and Christopher Shinn (Adaptation of the Play) left us wanting. At times, I felt as frustrated as Hedda, with the production as detached as Tesman. I tried to be magnetically drawn to the drama, but the effort was elusive. As I have often mused, this production might be mounted on a small stage for more immediate chemistry between characters and audience. For this viewer, the memories melted.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at