Entertainment » Theatre

Hedda Gabler

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jan 16, 2009
Jennie Eisenhower and Sarah Sanford in "Hedda Gabler" at the Mauckingbird Theatre Company.
Jennie Eisenhower and Sarah Sanford in "Hedda Gabler" at the Mauckingbird Theatre Company.  

The Mauckingbird Theatre's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, poses Eilert Lovborg, Hedda's paramour, as a woman not a man. This is not only intriguing theatrically, it is hot, with all of those repressive social mores already swirling, adding another layer of scandale.

But lesbian carnal knowledge in 1912 Norway, in this version, adapted with minimal changes of Ibsen's text by Caroline Kava, has to rely on measures of period ambiguity that eventually spin narrative problems all their own.

Hedda being a lesbian would seem to play easily into the Mauckingbird's mission for "through a gay lens" classical theater. It was seamless in last year's productions of Moliere and Shakespeare, but Ibsen is somehow beyond this concept. Some of exposition doesn't give a clear answers, so it just hangs there for the blanks to be filled in, sometime with burlesque results.

Hedda is already so complex she makes it hard to truly understand the playwright's intent. Ibsen's railing against on the social hypocrisies of his time, makes it is hard to believe that someone as willful as Hedda could pull off being trapped in an unwanted marriage.

As Hedda, Jennie Eisenhower has some powerful moments especially opposite Sarah Sanford's Lovborg, but she veers from thinly veiled contempt to inadvertent comedy.

Eisenhower has a volcanic physicality and you believe she would fire pistols in the air just for fun. But she would be more interesting if she dialed it back a notch. Although her lethal glance when Tessman tells her to stop playing Chopin is priceless -- it's Joan Crawford by way of Carol Burnett.

Dito van Reigersberg plays George Tessman, Hedda's complacent academic husband, with heart and a firm sense of physical comedy.

Sanford, resembling a cameo of Frederick Chopin, plays Loveborg with a snarky passion for intellectual pursuits and smoldering sexuality. There are moments in her stolen moments with Hedda where it all comes together. But those are dashed by some sequences of static dialogue.

Jessica DalCanton is charmingly dense as the hapless Thea, in unwitting competition with Hedda for Lovborg. Eisenhower also had effective moments with the crisp sarcasm of Matthew Lorenz as Judge Brack, who sexually harasses Hedda. Their chemistry together is taut without being overwrought. As Tessman's aunt, Cheryl Williams completely articulated Ibsen in period deportment and tonality.

This is the third production directed by Peter Reynolds for Mauckingbird, While he was full of invention of pacing and sense of ensemble in the previous productions, this "Hedda" is erratic in comparison.

There's handsome claustrophobic set design by Cory Palmer and inspired costumes (on top again) by Marie Anne Chiment ,which consist of corset dresses in layered textured plums, burgundies and blacks. The men's cutaways and vests are also handsomely detailed. The wigs were a bit out of the "Psycho" collection though.

This interpretation can be added to the pantheon of prickly versions of "Hedda," so good for Mauckingbird for trying to cross this deep theatrical fjord.

Through January 20 at the Mauckingbird Theatre Company, Adrienne Theater Second Stage, 2030 Sansom St. Philadelphia, Penn. For more details visit the Mauckingbird Theatre Company website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

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