American Airlines Theater
I expected great things from this Hedda Gabler, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. The artists involved in this rendering of Henrik Ibsen’s masterful tale of an eccentric and maybe-mad housewife are all worthy of “deep admiration.” Start with the title role, played by Mary-Louise Parker, currently of the television series Weeds. Her recent stage performances have not only been strong but have provided “some of my most pleasurable theatergoing moments.” Ibsen’s words have been translated by Christopher Shinn, “one of the absolute best of a new generation of American playwrights.” And director Ian Rickson’s recent revival of Chekhov’s The Seagull was among the best I’ve ever seen. So how is it that this revival is not only bad but “one of the worst revivals I’ve ever, ever seen”?
You can start with Parker, said Elysa Gardner in USA Today. A gifted and magnetic performer possessed of a gaunt beauty, she ought to be the perfect Hedda. But rather than portray her as a proto-feminist writhing under 19th-century social constraints and a soul-deadening marriage, Parker “reduces Hedda to a petulant, if glamorous, brat.” The play’s central puzzle is a deeply serious one—whether Hedda is “more a victim of patriarchal oppression or her own darkly romantic ideals.” Parker, who spends most of the play speaking in a “clipped monotone,” delivers a performance that is simply “too irritating to make us wonder, or care.”
“At least as disappointing” is Rickson’s direction, said Linda Winer in Newsday. The director tries to infuse the play with a sheen of eroticism, starting with “a nonsensical opening shot of Parker’s bare butt and breast.” PJ Harvey, meanwhile, provides awful incidental music that comes across like the soundtrack to a cheesy horror flick. But in all the ways that matter, Rickson’s version is “stodgy and straightforward.” He doesn’t take any real chances with the characters and provides “little unifying style.” From its outsize sets to its collection of quirky performances, this Hedda Gabler is simply “weird.”