'Hedda Gabler'


There's a real atmosphere of danger evident in the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," starring Mary-Louise Parker. Unfortunately, it stems less from the reckless malevolence of its unhappy title character than from the sense that the production seems perilously unmoored.

The unevenness of the proceedings is particularly surprising because it has been staged by British director Ian Rickson, whose brilliant interpretation of "The Seagull" received raves on both sides of the Atlantic.

Parker effortlessly projects an air of neurotic intensity in most of her roles, so she would seem perfect casting for Hedda, whose misery over her loveless marriage to Tesman, a failed academic, results in tragically destructive behavior that is barely less shocking today than it must have been when the play premiered in 1891.

But the performance, while perfectly respectable, fails to compel, despite the occasional welcome doses of humor she injects into her line readings. There is precious little modulation on display, with the result that one never feels any engagement for a character who clearly is meant to be more than simply a femme fatale.

The principal supporting players seem to be inhabiting different theatrical universes. Peter Stormare's Judge Brack, whose implicit blackmailing of Hedda motivates her to her final act of desperation, is played strictly for melodrama. Michael Cerveris overdoes Tesman's haplessness to such a degree that it's impossible to imagine what Hedda ever saw in him. On the other hand, Paul Sparks, who delivered many riveting outsized performances on local stages, is uncharacteristically bland as Lovborg, Tesman's rival both professionally and romantically.

The staging and the contemporary-sounding adaptation by Christopher Shinn are more crude than revelatory. And the modernistic incidental score by PJ Harvey, while undeniably conveying Hedda's emotional dissonance, seems out of place in the otherwise traditional period setting.

"Hedda Gabler" is the sort of classic that is produced again and again but all too rarely successfully. Count this latest rendition among the many missteps. (partialdiff)