Hedda Gabler

  • Date:
    January 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    In the last 110 years, "Hedda Gabler" has been performed on Broadway 19 times, and rarely has an audience been happy. In most recent memory, Roundabout Theatre's 1994 production starring Kelly McGillis was so awful, you wished Hedda had shot herself at the end of the first act instead of waiting for the end of the play.

    The 2001 production with Kate Burton was a respectable rendering of the Hedda story, but not a rave, and now, seven years later, we have a "Hedda" starring Mary Louise Parker, but she is yet another disappointing star who can't figure out this desperate housewife.

    "Hedda," which had its premier in 1881, is a domestic drama that, like "A Doll's House," seeks to dramatize what happens when women find themselves with their backs against a wall. Nora made the courageous decision to slam the door on her doll's house and walk out, deciding it was a better alternative than living the rest of her life in an oppressive marriage.

    Hedda finds herself in a similar position, but she believes she doesn't have the same option. Walking out is open to her -- her friend, Thea Elvsted did it -- but this woman of convention couldn't bear the thought of the gossip. Or a life without luxury. The fact is, Hedda makes bad decisions. Unable to keep the love of the unpredictable and often drunk, Ejlert Lovborg, she went and married a man she didn't love because "it was time."

    Jorgen Tesman, a would-be professor and Hedda's husband, is a clueless mate who's in over his head. The book he wrote is unremarkable; the house he bought for Hedda is too costly; and the beautiful Hedda is too spoiled. Just when we're feeling sorry for him, he steps up and shows us his passion, but only for his work. This cloying man is played by the absurdly cast, Michael Cerveris. A formidable actor who played the eponymous murderer in "Sweeney Todd", and John Wilkes Booth in "Assassins," he just doesn't cut it as a groveling husband to the prickly Hedda.

    But now that Hedda's made her decision, she's unable to live with it. Besides, this bitter woman has gotten herself into a pickle, and criminal allegations are hanging over her head. Her one true love has died a dishonorable death, her husband's attentions have turned towards Thea, and her elderly suitor, Judge Brack, essentially says it's either my bed or I'll blackmail you. Hedda can't slam the door, so this pistol-packin' mama, who plays with guns, finally turns one on herself.

    Parker is, at best, a quirky Hedda. She starts out with the flat, monotone voice we've come to expect from the star of "Proof" and television's "West Wing," and then suddenly bursts out into playful cadences more characteristic of a teenager. She is at one time morose and sulllen, then catty and bratty, then angry and petulant. All actors want to show their range, and play challenging roles, but Parker, like Hedda made a bad decision with this one.

    "Hedda Gabler" may be considered an Ibsen masterpiece, but you'd never know it from this production.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus

    What the press had to say.....

    "Affectless, amateurish acting." & "One of the worst revivals I have ever seen." & "It�s not just that everyone is bad. It�s that they�re all bad in their own, different ways. At times you feel that because of some confusing detours in the back alleys of Broadway, actors who were meant to be in � I dunno, anything from �Grease� to �Equus� � showed up at the wrong place.
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "Parker is an unpredictable actress, and that's what makes her so exciting. But in this outing, she's got two switches: seethe and boil over. Her Hedda actually hisses and claws at her hair when she's outsmarted by Thea late in the game. To quote the script's last line � "Who would do such a thing!"
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "Uneven revival...The fault lies not in its stars - well, partly, but we'll get to Peter Stormare later - but in Christopher Shinn's tin-eared adaptation." & "Overall, Ibsen deserves better. So do we."
    Barbara Hoffman
    New York Post

    "New York still can�t get Henrik Ibsen�s drama right." & "There are moments when Parker�s charm and talent keep Hedda afloat, but all too often she drowns in misdirection."
    John Simon

    "Parker's intelligence and range are wasted on this performance, which reduces Hedda to a petulant, if glamorous, brat." & "The chief culprits are director Ian Rickson and playwright Christopher Shinn, whose adaptation tries way too hard to underline Ibsen's psychological insights and make this timeless classic more accessible to modern audiences."
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "Not interesting-and really not good at all." Linda Winner

    "Ian Rickson's overheated production does not deliver Ibsen's intent." & "Parker's Hedda is like Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond plopped down in 19th-century Norway... she is altogether too contemporary for this role, and she's been directed to pitch herself to the edge of high camp.
    David Sheward
    Back Stage

    "A coarse, dull and badly acted misadventure?"
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "Nerve-jangling, melodramatic production." & "If the production and performances are jagged, playwright Christopher Shinn's clear-headed, economical and modern-sounding adaptation is not. It moves with surprisingly swiftness."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "The sort of classic that is produced again and again but all too rarely successfully. Count this latest rendition among the many missteps."
    Frank Scheck
    Hollywood Reporter

    "Mary-Louise Parker's interpretation of "Hedda Gabler" was probably always going to be a little wacky, but in the Roundabout revival she's the loopiest of a fairly off-kilter bunch."
    David Rooney