Hedda Gabler -- Some Quirky Stuff

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

For an Ibsen purist and even for those who aren't so demanding, the current production of Hedda Gabler at Hartford Stage Company has a few quirky bits, but despite them, the play comes off relatively well and certainly will attract those who are Gabler virgins and even keep the interest of those of a more experienced persuasion.


This clear adaption of Hedda Gabler by Jon Robin Baitz from a literal translation by Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey provides an excellent version of the story of a woman trapped in the social mores of her time and who is driven to both want to resist those mores but also is fully supportive of them since they seem to represent civilization.


Hedda Gabler, well played by Roxanne Hope, and her husband, George Tesman, given a solid depiction by John Patrick Hayden, have returned from their honeymoon to the home Tesman believes was exactly what she wanted. We later find out this was merely a ruse created by Hedda to provide conversation. Tesman is a scholar who deals in the history of civilization and is presently involved in a work about the handcrafts of the Levant in the middle ages. Tesman is expecting an appointment as a professor.


Into this happy situation comes Judge Brack played by Thomas Jay Ryan, a sneaky type who looks for opportunities. He was influential and instrumental in getting this house and furnishing it. He is also interested in Hedda. Matters are complicated by an old flame of Hedda's, Eilert Lovborg, who is given a perfect Nordic look by Sam Redford. He had been a competitor with Tasman but his success was limited by his alcoholism and wild behavior. But Lovborg has reformed and is possibly a competitor with Tesman for the professorship. In a meeting between the two, Lovborg makes it clear he has no intention of competing thus clearing the way for Tesman. During a raucous evening party at Brack's home Lovborg reads from the manuscript of his new book which greatly impresses Tesman. However on the way home from the party he dropped the manuscript and Tesman has found it.


We won't go on to further detail the plot, so you’ll have to go to Hartford Stage Company to see it all work out.


Performances are excellent, and overall Jennifer Tarver, the director and the production team has done a good job at allowing both those who know the play and those who do not, to understand and enjoy it.


But you know immediately that there are going to be some quirky things because what strikes you on the open stage as you enter the theater is the appearance and sound of rain. The rain becomes more and more pronounced after a few minutes until it sounds like a troupe of tap dancers on the roof. Apparently the director, Jennifer Tarver, believes that the rain will provide an appropriate atmosphere despite the fact that in the opening scene the title character complains about the sun. Well, let's not let the facts of the play interfere with a clever scenic idea.


On the stage is a baby grand piano; our attention is drawn to it when the play opens with Hedda sprawled on it as if it were her bed. As we move into the actual play, Hedda gets up and leaves the stage, almost sleep-walking but the piano stays. Let’s just say that Ibsen did not indicate that bit in his stage directions. Now that piano has an uncredited role in the play but it is certainly not central, and in the second act it is removed. You will get a charge out of the process.


The stage itself is odd, with the action taking place while we are made aware that there is a floor beneath where late in the first act many of the characters disappear, but we still hear their voices. Why it was necessary to create this odd room arrangement is anyone's guess.


Another quirky bit is the picture of Hedda's farther, General Gabbler, a person who had a powerful effect on the character of his daughter. The picture is against the stage left wall and is partially boarded up. At one point Hedda tears off one of the boards. Obviously Tarver and her scenic designer Eugene Lee intended this for an important statement but exactly what it is hard to know.


This is a very well-made play and Baitz has allowed for the story to develop as Ibsen intended. If the ending is a bit too abrupt, the fault there is with the director who doesn't allow enough time for the situation to settle. But the performers are generally top notch and you will have an opportunity to see a good production of one of the early classics of modern theater.


Hedda Gabler is at Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., in downtown Hartford through Sept. 23. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-527-5151 or online at hartfordstage.org.


This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers September 19, 2012 and online at Zip06.com.

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