Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 8, 2012

Hedda Gabler

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through September, 23, 2012
by Shera Cohen

Before the play begins, one is struck by the enormity of the setting – completely occupying stage left to stage right, floor to ceiling. Yet this largesse is full of gaping holes, as the image of a house is wrapped around scaffolding. Rain drenches the backdrop, and as the lights go down the almost deafening sounds of storm command the attention of the visual and aural senses. It is loud and clear that the classic drama “Hedda Gabler” is about to capture its audience.
Photo: T. Charles Erikson
Many may be familiar with Ibsen’s flawed strong-willed women characters whose lives are caught in the mores of the late 19th century. He has created Hedda as harsh, demanding, and self-serving seemingly with no redeeming factors other then her beauty. Yet, in the very capable hands of actress Roxanna Hope, she has ensconced her character with intelligence, torment, futility, and madness. It’s easier to hate Hedda than to understand her, but Hope demands that the effort be made.

The play displays several character triangles from the past, present, and future. The triangles overlap. None are pleasant. Some are deadly. Hedda is the lynchpin in every scenario particularly through her control of her new husband. John Patrick Hayden epitomizes this put upon “nice guy” through many nuances in speech, movement, and demeanor. At the same time, Hedda is cagey and encaged by others in her small world.

The play runs two and a half hours and not a second is wasted. Director Jennifer Tarver orchestrates her actors and their movements as Hedda manipulates those in her grasp. Is Hedda pure evil? Is she sick? These are important questions for each audience member. However, adding an element to the confusion of just who is Hedda, is the script penned in Jon Robin Baitz’s adaptation and/or Tarver’s direction. While the entire play need not be laden in doom and gloom, at times the humor seems inappropriate to the era and the setting. That may be a small element among the many pluses in this production – so many, and most importantly the suburb skills of the actors. The audience gave all an instant standing ovation.