A drama which takes place at the turn of the twentieth century, Hedda Gabler begins amid an escalating rain. Those heightening effects are dramatically magnified by lighting designer Robert Thomson and sound designer Fitz Patton. The alluring Hedda and her plain nondescript husband George (John Patrick Hayden) are returning to their home in Norway, having married six months before. It is a large multi-tiered house and not well furnished.
Eugene Lee's set, though, is marvelous. He provides a wooden floor with different gradations on the boards. The set designer also shows quite a bit of scaffolding and some pieces of furniture. Tesman, an academic, is a worrier who does not understand his new wife and her cravings. He hopes that a promotion will enhance his fiscal earnings. A meek man, he wishes to please but is not particularly in touch with reality.
Hedda does not demonstrate interest in her husband, and the thought of having a child with him is rather revolting. Instead, she plays to Judge Brack (Thomas Jay Ryan) who is, to be kind, cleverbut actually more devious than that. Holding authority in the community, Brack is confident of himself. Hedda, irritated that she is stuck with George Tesman, becomes an intrusive force within the relationship between her old friend Thea Elvsted (Sara Topham) and the writer Eilert Lovborg (Sam Redford). Lovborg is brilliant, good-looking, and a drinker.
Hedda, around 30 years of age, lives in a society which men dominate. She wants to be independent and one gathers that she married Tesman because she thought he might provide for her. When this audience meets her, she is already at a peak of frustration, and this is just the beginning. She hasn't an iota of intrigue with the domestic life or, for that matter, with children. While George is an average if not timid soul who will pursue scholarship, Eilert Lovborg is a man with dash and potential. Hedda catapults Lovborg toward the bottle. She is also quite disrespectful to Aunt Julia Tesman (Kandis Chappell).
Additionally, Hedda has an affection for pistols, as in guns. She feels she can exert some control through usage of guns. This was a time and place when women could not hold property and, in fact, were bound to the men they married. The males in this play are seriously flawed. Tesman is geeky, Brack is cunning, and Lovborg spins out of control. Still, it is a stretch to find excuses for Hedda's absolutely cruel actions toward other humans.
Roxanna Hope is not large of physical stature, but her Hedda is clearly the prolific and galvanic force in Ibsen's drama. Beautiful and determined, she will take action. For example, she carefully burns and thus destroys the pages of Lovborg's manuscript.
Jennifer Tarver directs this play quite specifically and with attention to the excellent supporting character actors. One of the stars of the production has to be designer Fabio Toblini and his costumes. Hope, as Hedda, wears elegant, flattering dresses, one of which is eye-catching green. Toblini dresses others in darker shades and all of this seems period perfect.
Roxanna Hope, as the leading woman in turmoil, holds the spotlight through her detailed and thorough performance. The actors who surround her are excellent; fine work all around.
Where, however, is the redemptive theme within this classic Ibsen, the man often called the father of modern drama? Yes, it was realistic during its time and holds contemporary relevance. If so, its implications are tragic.
Hedda Gabler continues at Hartford Stage through September 23rd. For tickets, call (860)527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol