Monday, January 26, 2009

Hedda Gabler

Grade: D+

By Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Christopher Shinn, Directed by Ian Rickson. At the American Airlines Theater through March 29th.

With the exception of CurtainUp and Total Theatre, the highest grade this show received was one B- from TheaterMania. The major subject up for debate amongst the critics is what is to blame for the misfiring of such a gathering of talent (including Pulitzer finalist Chris Shinn, stage megastar Michael Cerveris and Mary Louise Parker) with most reviewers blaming director Ian Rickson. Some do not care for Shinn's adaptation, while others really like it, some hate Mary Louise Parker's performance while others think it's the only reason to see the show etc.

Total Theater A-
(David Lefkowitz) Mary Louise Parker makes Christopher Shinn’s new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler the best, most exciting version of the show I have ever seen. Her every word, every gesture is fascinating, magnetic. Her essence is sensual, her beauty radiates, especially as gowned by designer Ann Roth. It’s a brilliant, many-layered performance as she restlessly prowls the stage like a feral tiger imprisoned in a small cage.

CurtainUp A-
(Simon Saltzman) Yes, there are many ways to interpret the role. But to Parker's credit, we judge Hedda not as evil or deranged but as a bored, aristocratic woman with a ferocious need to test and challenge the suffocating Victorian society in which she lives. Energized and revitalized by Shinn's adaptation (from a literal translation by Anne-Charlotte Harvey) our ears are immediately set at ease with the commendably clear and unfussy syntax. I do not have the new text, but based on the older version I do have, I can say that Ibsen's ironies and subtleties have not been diminished or lost. Hedda Gabler also benefits from Ian Rickson's staging, conspicuous for his adoration and consideration of the play's centerpiece. Our very first image of Hedda awakening sensually on a sofa in the ante-room and stretching her limbs beneath a large clouded mirror is a stunner, but only the first of a series of postures and attitudes that will define perhaps the most willful Hedda of them all.

TheaterMania B-
(Brian Scott Lipton) While many theatergoers (and critics) were enraptured by Rickson's recent production of The Seagull, some of the director's shortcomings are as noticeably on view here as they were there. ...Luckily, Parker's leading men are on the same proverbial page with her. Cerveris, while perhaps a slightly more virile looking Tesman than might be expected, perfectly captures the character's obliviousness to both the outside world and his wife's true needs. And in his two scenes, Sparks expertly balances Lovborg's loucheness and goodness, and his chemistry with Parker is undeniably explosive. Even though most theatergoers know Hedda's fate, if one chooses to see the play agaain, it is in part to try to figure her out on one's own, But mostly, it's an opportunity to watch a committed actress wrestle with the character's demons, which Parker does unflinchingly.

American Theatre Web C-
(Andy Propst) For this new Broadway outing, which uses a new, colloquial adaptation by Christopher Shinn, Parker delivers a Hedda which often fascinates, but unfortunately, neither it, nor director Ian Rickson's production ever truly satisfies.

New York Magazine C-
(Stephanie Zacharek)
Parker’s Hedda inspires neither sympathy nor revulsion, even though, ideally, the character should invoke every feeling in between. Rickson has shaped the material so that the hapless humans who so annoy Hedda aren’t just average, dull, well-meaning people but hopeless drips, the sort of mouth-breathers everyone wants to avoid on the playground of life. When they say something stupid, as they invariably do, Parker’s Hedda responds either with an impatient eye roll or an attempt at a Jack Benny–style deadpan stare before lashing out with a trademark cutting remark.

TalkinBroadway C-
(Matthew Murray) Despite providing sound entertainment and intermittent flashes of intelligence, Roundabout’s new production of Hedda Gabler at the American Airlines is missing almost all the air that typically makes Henrik Ibsen’s 119-year-old dissection of disaffection so breathtaking. As newly adapted by Christopher Shinn (from Anne-Charlotte Harvey’s literal translation), directed by Ian Rickson, and acted by a cast of unquestionable stature but uneven style that includes Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Cerveris, Paul Sparks, and Peter Stormare, this serious-minded classic has never seemed more immature.

Theater News Online C-
This Hedda Gabler that Mr Rickman [note from Isaac: it's Ian Rickson, not Rickman]delivers is never persuasive and never reaches its potential. It is as sadly stillborn as its doomed heroine's marriage.

Time Out NY C-
(David Cote) Ian Rickson recently staged a fine Seagull on Broadway, but this production seems weirdly stilted and slack at the joints. Christopher Shinn’s adaptation pares away verbiage in favor of keener subtext, leading to arrhythmic dialogue and slack pacing. Sparks offers respite with fire and intensity, but Parker’s somnambulant Hedda seems like a weak idea given free rein. If the drama itself is actually Hedda’s nightmare, we’re having it too.

The New Yorker C-
(John Lahr) Here, instead of light, there is dark; instead of order, there is clutter; instead of Hedda’s father’s portrait, there is a glazed mirror, which reflects only Hedda’s alienated self; instead of the external space, Rickson shows us her internal one. The choice, it seems to me, is bold but wrong. It tilts the stakes from psychological perplexity to didactic melodrama.

Associated Press C-
(Michael Kuchwara) If the production and performances are jagged, playwright Christopher Shinn's clear-headed, economical and modern-sounding adaptation is not. It moves with surprisingly swiftness across Hildegard Bechtler's odd, almost spare setting of the Tesman living room, which is as off-kilter as the people who occupy it.

Backstage D+
(David Sheward) As he did with his recent production of The Seagull, a hit in London and New York, Rickson has dusted off a familiar classic, sexed it up, and given his leading lady the opportunity to grab the spotlight with a flashy performance. Though Kristin Scott Thomas in The Seagull added humor, joy, childishness, charm, and narcissism to Arkadina, Parker's Hedda is like Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond plopped down in 19th-century Norway. Don't get me wrong: Parker is one of our finest actors, and there are moments of passionate fire in her portrayal. But she is altogether too contemporary for this role, and she's been directed to pitch herself to the edge of high camp.

The Financial Times D+
(Brendan Lemon) The theoretically smart Hedda, based on Christopher Shinn’s new adaptation, proves a disappointment. Curiously uninvolving, this Roundabout Theatre production presents a host of artistic talents spinning off from one another as if in separate solar systems.

USAToday D+
One would assume that, given her paralyzing fear of scandal, the last thing Henrik Ibsen's tortured 19th-century housewife would want is to make a spectacle of herself. But in the Roundabout Theatre Company's new production of Hedda Gabler (** out of four), which opened Sunday at the American Airlines Theatre, that's precisely what she does.

NYPost D+
(Barabara Hoffman) Certainly, there are moments: the moody arpeggios Hedda plays on the piano; the electric kiss she gives Ejlert when she grabs his hand and thrusts it under her skirt before pushing him away. But overall, Ibsen deserves better. So do we.

Gay City News D+
(David Kennerly) Make no mistake - as Hedda, Mary Louise Parker gives a mesmerizing performance, carrying on like a petulant child in need of a good nap. But it's as if Rickson told her to imagine she were taping an episode of "Weeds," her contemporary television comedy-drama, instead of a period piece. What's more, she's so despicable she has no redeeming qualities - even the meanest, wildest of Heddas elicited some measure of sympathy, but not this one. At the tragic end of the play, what should have been a bang registers as barely a whimper.

Bloomberg D
(John Simon) According to Rickson, Ibsen’s characters shove and wrestle one another, bully and yell, stick their faces crassly into those of others and altogether show scant civility. Why then would Hedda be stifling in punctilio? Are boxers bored in the ring, clowns suffocating in the circus? There are moments when Parker’s charm and talent keep Hedda afloat, but all too often she drowns in misdirection. Already at curtain rise, she wakes up in a skimpy nightgown on a bed under an inclining mirror, as if she were Miss January after a night of revelry at the Playboy mansion. The good Michael Cerveris as well is fitfully persuasive as her husband, but would Ibsen’s handsome but stodgy blond be a fidgety nervous Nellie, bald as an egg and running around barefoot when his proper aunt is visiting?

NY Daily News D
(Joe Dziemianowicz) The adaptation by playwright Christopher Shinn... is too contemporary by half. It seems less concerned with illuminating Hedda as it is in putting lines in her mouth that get a rise out of the audience. Ian Rickson's staging follows suit. Even a surprisingly erotic clinch between Hedda and her ex-lover, Ejlert (Paul Sparks), is defused when it's played for an awkward laugh. Earlier this season, this British director found airy lyricism in Chekhov's The Seagull. Nuance seems to have flown the coop.

(Roma Torre) Hedda, if done correctly, reminds us how impossible it was for intelligent women to thrive in a world dominated by the smoky confines of patriarchal society. Ibsen's great pre-feminist work is sadly reduced to a soap opera here. Hedda may know how to handle pistols, but this production is a misfire.

Entertainment Weekly D
(Melissa Rose Bernardo) Rickson — who staged such a sublime Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas and Sundance darling Carey Mulligan last fall — has assembled a cast that's mismatched at best, misguided at worst. As Hedda's well-intentioned but whipped writer husband, the always reliable Michael Cerveris turns in a very classical Tesman...which is completely at odds with Parker's more contemporary approach to the material. Paul Sparks adopts a mysterious Norwegian (or is it Southern?) accent as bad-boy author Ejlert Lovborg. And why are they all constantly moving around the furniture? Isn't that what maids are for? Or stagehands?

Village Voice D
(Michael Feingold)
Despite its violence, Hedda is more dark comedy than stark tragedy. Full of undercurrents and nuances, it's easy to grasp but extremely hard to realize. Ian Rickson's new Roundabout production, though livelier in patches than his somnolent dead-zone Seagull last fall, is a baffling patchwork that quickly falls apart at the seams... Mary-Louise Parker, who ought to be a great Hedda, and probably could be, in a different production. Here, she seems displaced, cut off from Hedda's feelings except when asked to display them with the weird triple underlining that Rickson apparently considers the best way to convey sexual subtext. She may be trying to animate her unsupportive supporting players: Paul Sparks, excellent in other roles, makes a distressingly wooden Lovborg; Peter Stormare, once Bergman's fire-breathing Hamlet, supplies a grumpy, de-energized Brack; Ana Reeder renders Thea as a frumpy barfly out of film noir. Don't blame the actors: Rickson's Seagull reduced similarly interesting performers to an equivalent drabness. You wonder if he would even know what Hedda means when she tells Lovborg, in other English versions, to "do it beautifully." Without a sense of beauty, you can't make sense of Ibsen.

NYPress D
(Leonard Jacobs) Parker’s conceit is to make Hedda an overripe nubile from Beverly Hills 90210: overindulged, sophomoric and soporific. It’s an error to play her without connecting Ibsen’s pre-feminist dots; to roll her eyes to indicate disgust in lieu of unearthing what makes a well-to-do lady lope like a loon. Hedda may hate the world, but Parker’s bag of tics is anachronistic, with double takes worthy of a Mike Nichols comedy and more mugging than a night in South Central Los Angeles.

Variety D
(David Rooney) Mary-Louise Parker's interpretation of Hedda Gabler was probably always going to be a little wacky, but in the Roundabout revival she's the loopiest of a fairly off-kilter bunch. Using a disappointingly blunt new adaptation by Christopher Shinn, this is a production so doused in glum eccentricities that Ibsen's terminally bored neurotic has already reached the apex of her caged desperation before a line of dialogue has even been spoken. And while there's entertainment to be had from Parker's curt sarcasm and nutty double-takes, too many perplexing choices make the great play unaffecting and the irrational actions of its self-destructive antiheroine unsurprising.

Newsday D-
(Linda Winer) Parker's contemporary attitude comes through more as bratty petulance than profound psychological upheaval and despair at the boundaries of late 19th century Norwegian womanhood. When the truth about her ex-lover is revealed, Parker's freaky hiss suggests instead that water has been dumped on the Wicked Witch of the West. Otherwise, the production has a variety of quirky acting tics, but little unifying style.

Lighting and Sound America D-
(David Barbour) You can't accuse the actors of lacking a sense of period style, because nobody seems to have even tried for any. This is especially true of Paul Sparks' Lovborg, but he, at least, achieves a few moments of intensity. Much harder to take is Peter Stormare's Judge Brack: English is not the actor's first language, and he stresses the wrong words in each sentence, making him hellishly difficult to understand. Michael Cerveris' Tesman is even more thickheaded than usual, although he is touching in one or two places. Mary-Louise Parker's Hedda seems more geared for laughs than anything else, relying as it does on her trademark deadpan sarcasm. F
(Robert Feldberg) By the time Hedda, feeling trapped with no way out – and that isn't convincing, either — finally closes the doors to her bedroom, we anticipate the famous gunshot not with trepidation or sadness, but with the comforting knowledge that it'll mean we can go home.

(Matt Windman) Ian Rickson’s production is a disjointed, disappointing mess marked by uneven performances and bewildering choices that contradict the original text. For instance, though it is still set in 19th century Europe, Christopher Shinn’s adaptation is extremely colloquial and contemporary in its language....See it at your own risk!

The Observer F
(John Helipern) What on earth were they thinking?

NYTheatre F
(Stan Richardson) I really love this play and I wish I were inspired to write more, but the production currently on offer engenders this reviewer with not a single insight (fresh or stale). This Hedda Gabler is not the fascinating and tragic tale of an ambitious woman trapped in a man's world; it is one of the greatest characters in all of dramatic literature trapped in an aggressively irrelevant production by a nonprofit that appears to have no vision beyond the starry names they strive to include in their subscriber brochures. What a major embarrassment for the Roundabout Theatre Company. Somebody on the staff really should have read the adaptation or sat in on a rehearsal. Shame on them.

NYTimes F-
(Ben Brantley) Ms. Parker (currently of the television series “Weeds”) has provided some of my most pleasurable theatergoing moments, in plays by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, Reckless) and Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive). Mr. Shinn (Dying City) is one of the absolute best of a new generation of American playwrights. Michael Cerveris, who plays Hedda’s husband, is an actor who up to now I thought could do absolutely anything. And — oh, break, break my heart — the director of this “Hedda” is Ian Rickson, who this season delivered a nigh-perfect Seagull on Broadway, one of the best revivals I have ever, ever seen That he is now responsible for one of the worst revivals I have ever, ever seen has me flummoxed. Mr. Rickson’s “Seagull” was a fluidly integrated production in which everyone seemed to exist in the same moment and in the same universe. With this “Hedda” it’s not just that everyone is bad. It’s that they’re all bad in their own, different ways. At times you feel that because of some confusing detours in the back alleys of Broadway, actors who were meant to be in — I dunno, anything from “Grease” to “Equus” — showed up at the wrong place.

CU A- 12; TT A- 12; TM B- 9; ATW C- 6; TB C- 6; TONY C- 6; TNY C- 6; NYMAG C- 6; AP C- 6; TNO C- 6; FT D+ 5 BS D+ 5; NYPost D+ 5; USA D+ 5; GCN D+ 5; BB D 4; NYDN D 4; NY1 D 4; NYPR D 4; Variety D 4; EW D 4; VV D 4; ND D- 3; LSA D- 3; AMNY F 1; NJ F 1; NYTR F 1; NYO F 1; NYT F- 0;; TOTAL = 138/29 = 4.75 D+

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