"Couldn't you arrange that - that it's done beautifully?" The enigmatic title character of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler speaks these words as she exhorts Eilert Lovberg, a former lover, to kill himself with one of her pistols.
The line, spoken with a cold, firm authority by Blake Lindsey in an impressive New York debut, can make or break an aspiring Hedda, and in many ways it pointed up both the strengths and weaknesses of this particular production of Hedda Gabler, the eighth installment in the Century Center's Ibsen Series.
As already mentioned, Lindsey was impressive in the role, and there may be an astounding Hedda in her future. But while she certainly captured the character's haughty, aristocratic mien, she was less successful in displaying the vivacious life force that would capture the imaginations of the men she plays with so heartlessly. Granted, Nicholas Stannard's George Tesman, Hedda's husband, was little more than a sweet-tempered ninny, and Max Vogler was a bit too dimly jovial (and young) for the sensuously devious Judge Brack; they were easy territory for Lindsey's no-holds-barred Hedda. And indeed, Lindsey drove Alex Lippard's elegant production with a ferocious flair that helped to keep it in the realm of the traditionally respectable, if not outstandingly inventive.
But the balance was tipped irrevocably by Christopher Mullen's wildly charismatic interpretation of Eilert Lovborg. Mullen, disheveled and crazed-looking, seemed to have wandered into this production from some other, better Hedda Gabler, and as much of a breath of fresh air as he was, he raised the stakes so high that no one else was able to meet them, not even the formidable Lindsey.
Jessica Damrow, hampered by an ill-fitting costume, nevertheless was a strong Thea Elvsted, Barbara Haas was a delightfully warm and dignified Aunt Juliana, and Maxine Prescott had many funny moments as Berta, Hedda's reluctant maid.
Lippard used the beautiful ballroom at the Century Center to good advantage: richly decorated with period furniture and props, it served well for the Tesmans' drawing room "in the fashionable part of town." Graham Kindred's lighting was cold but may have been compromised by an uncovered skylight. Pamela Snyder's costumes were detailed, dark, and, with the exception of Damrow's outfit, attractive.
While there was nothing really seriously wrong with this production, the possibilities summoned up by Mullen's performance made it a slightly disappointing one. Despite its fame, Hedda Gabler is not one of Ibsen¹s better works, and while Lippard, Lindsey, and company did a solid, professional job, what they didn't do, sadly, was to see that it was done beautifully.
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita