Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Hedda Gabler
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Man in the Iron Mask

Julia Coffey and Michael Early
Photo by Allie Dearie
Who is Hedda Gabler? Henrik Ibsen wrote the play of that title in 1890, when a strong, intelligent woman with a drive for something beyond domesticity and motherhood would have few options. The genius of Mark O'Rowe's contemporary adaptation, now at Studio Theatre in Washington, is the way it shows that Hedda's restlessness and sense of dissatisfaction are innate, not specifically tied to the strictures of society in a specific era.

Luciana Stecconi's clean-lined set on the wide Mead Theatre stage is all shiny floors and tasteful furniture in neutral tones, an elegant free-standing fireplace, hard corners, and floor-to-ceiling windows—the opposite of the overstuffed Victorian mausoleum where one might expect to find Hedda. Only the absence of modern methods of communication (no PC, no smartphones, people send handwritten messages from house to house) shakes the modern illusion a bit.

Julia Coffey gives a magnetic performance, inhabiting Hedda in all her maddening contradictions and making it look easy. As the only child of a general, she grew up imperious, determined to do whatever she wanted (including playing with guns). She knows she's beautiful and fascinating—not to mention icily self-possessed—but, rather than do anything that might attract negative attention, she prefers to manipulate the people around her. Murell Horton's costumes magnify Hedda's need to make an impression: an elegantly tailored red dress for an afternoon at home, chic black lace for the following day.

As the play begins, though, Hedda may have gotten herself into a situation she can't easily resolve. She married callow academic Jorge Tesman (Avery Clark) because she was getting older, her other suitors weren't offering marriage, and she saw herself as the mistress of a beautiful house and a glittering social circle. Then came their six-month honeymoon, which he spent doing research for a scholarly work, and she realized that that Jorge is an overgrown little boy. His attentions to his tiresome Aunt Julie (Kimberly Schraf) and their doting maid Berte (Rosemary Regan) make her feel like an outsider in her own home.

Director Matt Torney has shaped the performances to build tension without losing the sense of realism. Shane Kenyon conveys both the dangerous appeal and the underlying self-disgust of Ejlert Lovborg, Hedda's former admirer and Jorge's rival for a teaching post, and Michael Early embodies the sleek menace of Judge Brack. Kimiye Corwin is a bit weaker as Thea Elvsted, a shy former schoolmate of Hedda who never quite reveals her hidden strength.

Scott Zielinski's lighting design and Fitz Patton's sound design bring the viewer into Hedda's sense of isolation: two of the acts take place early in the morning, but hardly any brightness shines through those tall windows.

Studio Theatre
Hedda Gabler
May 11th - June 19th
By Henrik Ibsen, in a new version by Mark O'Rowe
Julie Tesman: Kimberly Schraf
Berte: Rosemary Regan
Jorge Tesman: Avery Clark
Hedda Tesman: Julia Coffey
Thea Elvsted: Kimiye Corwin
Judge Brack: Michael Early
Ejlert Lovborg: Shane Kenyon
Directed by Matt Torney
Mead Theatre at The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or