Powerless Pistols: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

March 15th, 2009 § 1 comment

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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