by Henrik Ibsen
New Adaptation by Christopher Shinn
Directed by Ian Rickson
Starring Mary-Louise Parker
The Roundabout Theatre Company
at the American Airlines Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

Wheras Broadway’s last Hedda Gabler (in 2001) seemed to rescue the Ibsen warhorse from the mothballs of well-made schema, with a rousing new adaptation by Jon Robin Baitz, the current revival, courtesy of The Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre, seems determined to return it whence it came. (Which seems like a knock on Ibsen, but I don’t mean it so; only to say that for all the innovations he introduced to narrative structure, time has not been kind to the original texts, which almost always risk seeming stilted and schematic unless handled with as much courage as care.) Not being a learned Ibsen-ite, I can’t say how much Christopher Shinn’s new adaptation may be at fault, but certainly director Ian Rickson and his cast have used it as a vehicle for presenting broad character tropes rather than sharply defined individuals.

            Taking the central triumvirate alone: Mary-Louise Parker’s Hedda is less pathological than petulant, less emotionally reckless than simply destructive and almost nakedly disdainful. There’s no “poker face” in Ms. Parker’s manipulations, her Hedda is full of tells, the most frequent being to immediately make a face of impatience at the naivete or impending encroachment of those who feel a social burden to her, the minute their gaze turns from  her face. One of those is her husband, interpreted by Michael Cerveris as so naēve as to be simple-minded. While the scheming judge of Peter Stormare does everything short of twirl a non-existent villainous mustache (though he does actually sport a stove pipe hat). Perhaps the intent is modernist—or populist—but the effect is cartoonist. Seriously, with not a lot more pushing these characterizations would be perfect for Jay Ward.

            Weirdly, none of this makes the experience dull or bad so much as negligible. The behavior is so lacking in reality that it never takes root, and the experience seems to evaporate behind each new line. In several weeks’ time, I will have forgotten most of it. Fortunately, those of you who’ve not attended, won’t need nearly so much time to forget about it…

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