Mary-Louise’s Bare Bum Had Me Hedda-ing for the Exits!

heilpernhedda parker cer Mary Louises Bare Bum Had Me Hedda ing for the Exits!Has a play ever been revived with more alarming frequency than Hedda Gabler (1890)? As Ibsen’s ghost was heard protesting in Kristiania, Norway, only last weekend: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Hedda Gabler is apparently the only play that Henrik Ibsen ever wrote. While the derided revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company could be a final nail in Hedda’s coffin, I wouldn’t bank on it. The new production, starring Mary-Louise Parker, is the fourth to be staged in New York in recent memory.

Elizabeth Marvel’s histrionic Hedda was a downtown nutjob in Ivo van Hove’s chic modernist reinterpretation.

Has a play ever been revived with more alarming frequency than Hedda Gabler (1890)? As Ibsen’s ghost was heard protesting in Kristiania, Norway, only last weekend: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Hedda Gabler is apparently the only play that Henrik Ibsen ever wrote. While the derided revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company could be a final nail in Hedda’s coffin, I wouldn’t bank on it. The new production, starring Mary-Louise Parker, is the fourth to be staged in New York in recent memory.

Elizabeth Marvel’s histrionic Hedda was a downtown nutjob in Ivo van Hove’s chic modernist reinterpretation. Cate Blanchett’s period version was fascinating, an icy portrait of a willful narcissist—until, for some wayward reason, she decided to play it for laughs, ending on a pratfall. Kate Burton’s portrait flippantly reduced Ibsen’s impossibly demanding role to mere bourgeois ordinariness.

And Ms. Parker? I’m afraid that this gifted, intelligent actress has either been woefully misdirected by Ian Rickson, or she’s overreached. Nothing in her distinguished stage biography of contemporary plays (Prelude to a Kiss, Reckless, Proof) suggests that she possesses any experience in playing classic roles. She’s a modern actress giving us a modern Hedda in showy period costume. Although Ms. Parker has repeatedly revealed a talent for wide-eyed innocence, Hedda’s mercurial capacity for destructive boredom is beyond her.

The startlingly inappropriate (and embarrassing) opening image of Mr. Rickson’s production sends all the wrong signals: Ms. Parker’s sleepy Hedda is posed languorously on a sofa under a kind of bistro mirror with her frilly underclothes hitched above her bare bum. It’s very soft porn: Hedda Gabler as calendar girl.

What on earth were they thinking?

Ibsen’s neurotic Victorian heroine who’s thrown her life away on a marriage of suffocating respectability to a lapdog is many things: a cruel, untrustworthy egotist; a mysterious pampered beauty; a tragically trapped female; an emotionally unevolved woman; a proto-feminist sans courage. Eva Le Gallienne (Ibsen’s champion and translator in the 1920s) believed that the only brave thing Hedda ever did was to shoot herself.

One thing she isn’t is sexy (or cheap). She denies her own sexuality in her frigid, sublimated marriage to the doting Tesman. Ms. Parker’s scene of stolen kisses and heavy groping with Lovborg (the love Hedda spurned) is another serious miscalculation by the director in the cause of updating Ibsen. Sex isn’t what Hedda wants, but ownership. Her powerlessness motivates her to ruin lives.

Ms. Parker’s porcelain version sputters hesitantly between a petulant adolescent on Valium and a bitch goddess who’s been foiled. (At one low point, she literally hisses.) It’s as if Ian Rickson had given up trying to unlock the play’s purpose or point. The frequent musical interludes (the moody sounds of P. J. Harvey) only remind us of the production’s lack of authentic drama. The sluggish pace and terribly uneven ensemble work (including uncomfortable, broad performances from Peter Stormare and Michael Cerveris) are untypical of the British director who recently gave us the wonderful, measured revival of The Seagull. He renewed the Chekhov; Ibsen has left him drowning at sea.

Christopher Shinn (a fine American playwright, author of the psychological drama Dying City) “adapted” Hedda Gabler for this production. Either a great play has become an old potboiler, and will forevermore be in need of modernizing (in which case I don’t think Mr. Shinn radicalized it nearly enough), or poor old Ibsen should be left in peace to speak for himself for a change.

And here he is—doing that very thing! His aggrieved ghost has just informed me that he doesn’t think Mr. Shinn should have cut Hedda’s vision of beautiful Lovborg “with vine leaves in his hair.”

“I kind of liked the line,” Ibsen tells me. “But what do I know?”

 

THERE’S A KEY line—which has survived!—in the loving revival of Brian Friel’s 1979 Aristocrats at the invaluable Irish Repertory Theatre. The famously Chekhovian play about identity and loss is concerned with how we’re all the authors and actors of our own fictions: Telling stories helps us deal with the hurt that life brings us.

But Mr. Friel’s outsider Eamon sees through the consoling escapism of his Ballybeg family in their crumbling house on the hill. The fantasies of the delusional Casimir, in particular, possess what Eamon memorably describes as “the authentic ring of phony fiction.”