Mary-Louise Parker has the craft and the emotional reserves to be a great Hedda Gabler, but all of her talent and artistry prove futile in the Roundabout Theatre's new - and critically maligned - production of the Ibsen classic.
Granted Hedda Gabler is one of the most difficult assignments for any actor to conquer. She makes Ibsen's A Doll House character Nora seem like an acting picnic. The late British critic Kenneth Tynan felt Hedda was the female equivalent to Shakespeare's Macbeth. Hedda really has more of a relation to a couple of characters in Ibsen plays that directly precede his writing of Hedda Gabler: Rebecca West in Rosmersholm (1886) and Ellida Wagner in The Lady from the Sea (1888), both complex and stifled women.
Recent actors who have taken on the Hedda challenge have had hit or miss results: Cate Blanchett in interviews several years ago before her run in the play at BAM had lots of interesting ideas about the role, but few reached the stage- Kate Burton, who had a short Broadway try as Hedda created only a surface outline of the character. The best Hedda I've ever seen was a German production directed by Thomas Ostermeier which played at BAM in 2006. It had a modern translation by Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel (English subtitles were provided by BAM) and was played in a glass house setting flanked by a hugh mirror so the audience could see all the goings on inside. Hedda was the young German actress Kartarina Schuttler- she played the role as a sexy nymph dressed in a t-shirt and draw-string trousers. The play ended with blasting Beach Boys music that buzzed the nineteenth century whiskers off Ibsen's play and sent it into a relevant new realm.
The Roundabout production makes the mistake of trying to modernize the play with a fresh, slightly edgy, new adaptation by the young playwright Christopher Shinn, while letting the director, the Englishman, Ian Rickson, who made The Seagull soar on Broadway last fall, keep the action stuck in Ibsen's archaically and stiff 1890 setting. Sadly these two sensibilities never merge and handicap the production and the actors and reduce Ibsen's play to an old fashioned melodrama. We first see Ms. Parker, deshabille, naked from the waist down, curled up in a make-shift bed, in the study off of the set's main drawing room. The image reminded me of Carroll Baker in Tennessee Williams' film Baby Doll. Married for just six months to the pedantic scholar Jorgen Tesman (Michael Cerveris) she seems to have abandoned husband and marital bed.
At 29, Hedda married because she felt her young life had been spent and Tesman was the safest kind of husband for a woman who wanted to get everything, in or out of marriage, while giving nothing.
Ms. Parker, slender and pale-skinned gives a youthful, child-like impression of Hedda even when she is plodding and plotting around in an array of beautiful grown-up gowns created by Ann Roth. Her Hedda is, as Ibsen writes, a monster of selfishness, the first neurotic heroine of modern drama. She is bored and frustrated-the wedding trip was dismally dull. Tesman's prospects for an academic promotion are suddenly dim. They have little money, the mansion he has bought for her is heavily mortgaged and all that faces her is living a life of genteel poverty which she hates. The other alternative -the thought of pregnancy terrifies and horrifies her. Then the only man she ever seemed to be seriously interested in, Ejlert Lovborg (Paul Sparks), a successful writer, arrives on the scene. Soon she discovers a silly schoolmate she despises, Thea Elusted, (Ana Reeder) has reclaimed and inspi