"Ruthless", "conniving", "destructive", and "cruel" are all words that come to mind when one thinks of Hedda Gabler, the centerpiece of the classic Ibsen drama bearing the same name. However, in The Shakespeare Theatre's production of Hedda Gabler, the aristocratic Hedda is much more. She is a complex woman who possesses not only great strength but also great fear. Coupled with these traits is a desperate need to quell her hidden unrest. This desperation drives Hedda to adopt the role of puppeteer - manipulating the strings of those around her, at first for her own amusement, and later for more devious reasons.
Fresh from an extended honeymoon, the former Hedda Gabler and her scholarly husband, George Tesman, settle in their new home. George, a rather bland and ineffectual man, is anxious to improve his professional standing in order to supply Hedda with a high standard of living. As they settle into married life, the newlyweds go about the business of receiving visitors. It is soon revealed that George's fellow scholar, Eilert Lovborg, has returned to town. Unbeknownst to anyone, Lovborg is also Hedda's former beau. Hedda's ire arises upon hearing that not only has Lovborg given up his carousing ways, but also he has devoted himself to a new woman. Thus, Hedda's manipulative game begins.
A running theme in this production is the color blue. The set is awash in cobalt blue and is even used in one of Hedda's costumes. This very dominant color seems to symbolize Hedda's inner turmoil. Unfortunately, Walt Spangler's set design is quite distracting. Rather than complementing the actors, the set seems to compete with them - virtually swallowing them up at times. Even Amy Appleyard's skillful lighting does little to minimize the set's disrupting effect.
Conversely, Murell Horton has created a wonderful wardrobe for this production. Almost as if they were additional props, the cast utilizes their costume pieces to their advantage. With the nervous tug of a jacket or the haughty swish of a skirt, the costumes aid the actors in projecting their characters' personalities.
With Michael Kahn at the helm, The Shakespeare Theatre is renowned for its standard of high quality productions. Hedda Gabler continues in this tradition, proving to be a provocative piece of theater that is not to be missed.
The Shakespeare Theatre
Photo: Carol Rosegg