Blast from the past

Hedda Gabler

By Henrik Ibsen
Directed by John Basil
The American Globe Theater
145 West 46 Street (869-9809)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 8)
Review by Steve Gold

With its quaint plot machinations and often-coy dialogue, this 1890 play has by now acquired a thick layer of cobwebs. To remove them, the American Globe Theater chose to present Hedda Gabler as a drawing-room comedy. The text, it turns out, is quite amenable to such a rendition, even with its tragic ending. The final product, under John Basil's direction, is a mixed bag.

George (David Munnell) and Hedda (Elizabeth Keefe) have just returned from their honeymoon. George, with a freshly minted Ph.D., hopes to land a position as a university teacher. However, he learns from Judge Brack (Richard Fay) that Eilert Lovborg (Charles Tucker) is being considered for the same position. Lovborg has a notorious reputation. He also has a more formidable intellect than George. George knows this, and it makes him uncomfortable. Eilert has recently completed writing a scholarly tome that is yet to be published. George has read the manuscript and is reluctantly impressed with it. Eilert subsequently misplaces it during a night of hell-raising, and its ultimate fate forms part of the plot of Hedda Gabler. In the meantime, we meet additional characters who orbit George and Hedda's world: Mrs. Elvested (Melissa Hill), a sheriff's wife who apparently had a fling with Eilert during the time he worked as a tutor in her house, and George's busybody maiden Aunt Juliana (Maureen Hayes).

There's no denying the fact that Hedda is an all-American - or to be more precise, all-Norwegian - witch. She is selfish, querulous, and malicious, an icy woman of haughty demeanor. Keefe's Hedda was curiously down-to-earth and chatty - at times, she was almost likable. Overall, her work was smoothly accomplished, and yet it seemed at odds with Ibsen's intentions. Does the author really want us to like her? In reading the play, it seems that Ibsen loathes Hedda and everything she represents. He does not seem to have given her any redeeming qualities. As portrayed by Keefe, this Hedda, while not exactly someone you'd want to cuddle up to on a cold night, was never really loathsome.

Munnell, as Hedda's buffoonish husband, shouted many of his lines; at the play's conclusion, there was a moment during which he was simply deafening. In contrast, Tucker was charismatic as the idealistic Eilert, a man who could be both thoughtful and impetuous. Fay exuded a silky courtliness as the very shrewd Judge, shrewder, in fact, than Hedda initially realizes. Hill's Thea was winsome and very pleasing; and Keefe's sly sarcasm toward her provided a fleeting view of Hedda's fundamental meanness of spirit. Hayes was fine as the vaguely silly but kind-hearted Aunt Juliana. In the small role of Berta, a servant, Kelley McKinnon hadn't much to do, and she did it with good cheer.

As is usually the case at The American Globe, the production values displayed represented the best of Off-Off Broadway. J. Reid Farrington and Morgan von Prelle Pecelli built a dark-paneled, multi-level drawing-room of understated elegance. They also designed the restrained, tasteful lighting. Terry Leong's period costumes were singularly handsome. Scott O'Brien handled the incidental music with a light touch.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Steve Gold