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Hedda Gabler

[2004]

A meeting of two legends -- "Hedda, Joni ... Joni, Hedda." Les Irvin spotted this review that tells about the Joni connection in this production by the New York Theatre Workshop:

This 'Hedda' isn't for theater purists
Thursday, September 23, 2004

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- "Hedda Gabler" gets slapped around by Ivo van Hove and at times the repressed Norwegian vixen really seems to like it.

The Flemish director strips away the heroine's customary Victorian bustles and lets her loose in a candy-pink nightie. Hedda's bookish husband, George, is now a slim, moody slacker. They reside within a vast white box of raw drywall, sparsely furnished with battered furniture. Aunt Julia visits them, smartly dressed in leopard-print silk.

It's all looks very cool. Then everybody starts to seethe. Soon they rage.

An arty but often intriguing revival, "Hedda Gabler" opened Tuesday at New York Theatre Workshop.

Newcomers to Henrik Ibsen's 1890 evergreen drama probably won't have the faintest idea of what all the occasional shouting is about, but anyone conversant with the play can appreciate van Hove's bold treatment -- if not always go along with its excesses.

A few seasons ago at NYTW, this director staged a radical deconstruction of "A Streetcar Named Desire" that kept Blanche stewing in a bathtub. The guy really likes to play fast and loose with the classics.

The abstract expanse of designer Jan Versweyeld's setting likely represents the emptiness of Hedda's unfulfilled inner being. There she prowls about, bored to distraction, fingering the same refrain on a gutted piano and sardonically snapping at George and the maid.

The production's talk is stylized with sudden spasms of anger and marked by accelerations or slow-downs. Much of the play's final scene happens in darkness, the characters barely silhouetted against the enveloping gloom of Hedda's despair.

Purists will yelp, but there's no denying that van Hove's approach interestingly points up the various psychological forces that drive both heroine and play. Still, the action doesn't always compute.

At one point midway, Hedda trashes the place in an extended tantrum, angrily hurling armfuls of wilting flowers against the walls. It's highly dramatic, of course, but the play concerns a soul who fatally can never vent her emotions, so such an outburst seems improbable.

Still, the tangible fury and scorn and utter self-absorption that Elizabeth Marvel radiates as Hedda is liable to blind viewers to contradictions. As Joni Mitchell's "Blue" moans away in a recurrent theme, Marvel's hollow-voiced, vacant-eyed Hedda is revealed as an impulsive creature who meddles with others more from sheer, aimless whim than bad intentions.

In excellent contrast, John Douglas Thompson's jaunty Judge Brack is in complete control of his actions. True, Brack slams Hedda against a wall and later strong-arms her to the floor, but unlike Hedda, it's obvious he knows exactly what he's doing.

Ana Reeder portrays the usually clingy Mrs. Elvsted as a pussycat certain of her charms. As Hedda's former flame, Glenn Fitzgerald's Eilert Lovborg is clearly a man aware that he is barely able to suppress his worst urges. Jason Butler Harner's snarky, whining George and Mary Beth Peil's none-so-sweet Aunt Julia discover unexpected nuances in their characters.

These revelations come somewhat at the expense of the play's coherence as a story, however. So here, a prior acquaintance with "Hedda Gabler" is necessary to enjoy this visit with her.

(Contributed by Les Irvin)

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