Powerless Pistols: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

March 15th, 2009 § 0 comments

Hedda Gabler has recently been revived on Broadway with a prestigious cast and director, an awaited revival that revealed a disastrous interpretation filled with stilted performances—I can’t help but wonder why this play and why now. Being a critic by nature, or rather because of five years of art school, even I was not as unforgiving as the new york times or the new yorker. The play, like most, had its brilliant moments, and the rest was awkward at best. Interestingly, the better moments were brought about through the reinterpretations of the text, small alterations and additions to words and gestures that brought to life a little of the drama Ibsen likely had in mind, and that was so lacking in Sunday nights performance.

Ibsen, I have often thought, is more a feminist than most women who call themselves that. Watching last weekend’s performance I realized it was easier to misunderstand Hedda as a monstrous being without passion or feeling than to paint her in the light of the causes for those feelings. Rereading the play, I found that as unlikely as the story seemed onstage, there were small moments in the text that still ring sharply true. Her dialogue remains a critique of the obviousness and manipulation of the opposite sex, a thoughtlessness that over the last centuries has simply shifted, and has not yet disappeared. Hedda is not haunted and harassed by inner demons, she possesses a deformed conscience because she is fraught with discontent at her complete lack of control, over herself, her life, and those around her that she desperately tries to influence. In a rare moment of enthusiasm, when she believes her old lover has committed suicide at her insisting she states, “it’s liberating to know that there can still actually be a free and courageous action in this world. Something that shimmers with spontaneous beauty.” Though this notion is hastily stamped out it is as close as Hedda comes to disclosing her desire, and even hope, for life. Though the revival dwells on her talent for “feeling dead,” a line altered from “boring myself to death,” she is neither bored nor dead, and reading her frustrations as such is a dismissal of the insightful brilliance of Ibsen’s character.

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Inauguration Day—Freezing Feet

January 24th, 2009 § 0 comments

My strategy for arriving at the national mall from Arlington was not a good one, as it was nonexistent. Hugh stated the night before, “I wish I could tell you what it was like last time, but there is no last time.” Apparently, Lyndon Johnson was the President who drew the last largest crowd toward Washington. As the 20th dawned, the bridges were closed to cars and pedestrians, Metro stops that exited too close to the mall were skipped, and the rumors of “delays”, long lines, and the estimated crowd cap was enough to worry even the bravest of documenters. The slightly hopeful piece of information the morning offered was that no one would be allowed onto the mall before 7.

Living in Gotham has its annoyances and benefits, one of the benefits being—I realized as I walked to work the morning following the inauguration—that it gives you a distorted sense of what a “crowd” is. Living in Manhattan and working in midtown, you adjust to the dodging, pushing, and shoving. D.C. was also, for once, ready for the event. The Metro was slow but it succeeded in dumping trainload after trainload of people as close to the mall as they could be dumped. Embarking, it was not hard to figure which way to head; it was more a matter of joining the rushing, excited mass surging toward the nearest entrance to the mall, blocks and blocks away. It was a surreal and even pleasant way to walk D.C. as the streets, so usually full of cars and tourists, were closed this Tuesday to all but us, with buses, army vehicles, and police cars blocking intersections. Pedestrian cities grant a freedom we are unaccustomed to, being trained to jaywalk so carefully.

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The Inauguration—Warming up

January 22nd, 2009 § 0 comments

Walking around Washington D.C. on Monday felt like wandering through a dress rehearsal. The setting, a flag adorned Capital building, looked very much like a seat of political power, and looking at the podium overlooking the mall it was not hard to imagine the impressive view it would offer the following day. The props were in place, the bleachers, speakers, monitors, security fences, folding chairs, portable bathrooms, and all other special accommodations made for a slowly gathering crowd. Last minute details were being smoothed out, technicians clambered up and down fixing speakers, tinkering with the output and sound quality, newscasters were still buying for a space to set up their cameras, and somewhere on the mall Martin Luther King’s son talked to reporters surrounded by a circle of curious nobodies.

capital DC

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A Brutal Metaphor

January 14th, 2009 § 0 comments

What I actually know about communism, or specifically what I know about life under a communist dictator, is admittedly very little. Observing the residue of a country submitted to these circumstances while briefly visiting my in laws in Tirana, Albania, is about all I can boast of when it comes to “personal” knowledge. From an undeniably American stand point, the fascinating aspects of Albanian life are the daily conditions under which culture bends and life goes on. Tirana is an old city camouflaged by recent decades of chaos, and while life under Enver Hoxha might have been oppressive, the roads were paved and the cities infrastructure remained intact. Visiting involved walking in densely dirty streets, past stray cats and deteriorating industrial appliances, through peaceful yards and into snug, comfortable, and friendly apartments. Our American fear of poverty often excludes the fundamental fact that “things” do not necessarily grant the gift of quality, especially where the “quality” of life is concerned. Carefully dressed for a night out, wandering the violated and rocky streets toward the city center, I was surprised to find the city awake, vibrant, and seemingly carefree. In most ways the people seem to make do, and are even proud of, the history of events that befell their country.

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Eight Years Can Be a Long Time

November 15th, 2008 § 0 comments

W. is a difficult movie to get a hold on as it slides back and forth between fiction and reality, and realities that seem like fictions. Unlike JFK or Nixon, Stone’s latest political biography is strangely more biographical and less political than expected. The film comes across as an “oddly sympathetic” portrait of a sad man caught in a sad life that he is sadly still enacting. While it is clear than Stone, echoing a current 24% approval rating, is disgusted with Bush, he grossly underestimates the cunning, calculation, and sly tactics of our commander-in-chief.

bush sr & jr

The most frightening and problematic aspects of the film deal with time and timing. Though the conversations, motivations, and chain of events in the film are (somewhat) speculative, it is hard to separate actors in excellent “political drag” from the administration currently running our crumpling country. While we may have become resigned to what GW has already done, it is horrible to imagine while watching the film’s portrayal, what he is currently still doing. The questions of historical distance surrounding the film are awkward at best. Speculating on what else might happen between now and January of next year could drastically change how this man is perceived—an impeachment, perhaps? It is also too soon to contemplate the full consequences of what has been done, the administrations policies grasp on the future is too firm. If Stone wanted to call awareness to the man it seems he could have done it before the vast majority of the country was consumed by a buring desire to have him removed from office, and if he wants to offer us an insightful glimpse into GW’s deranged soul, it seems he should have waited. The film still has it merits, it is Stone after all, but it is uncharacteristically unpersuasive.

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