Monday, January 26, 2009

Did Critics Think This Revival Has Hedda Steam?

Did Critics Think This Revival Has Hedda Steam?

Yesterday, the latest Broadway revival of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler opened at the American Airlines Theatre. Ian Rickson helms Christopher Shinn's new adaptation of the classic work. The production stars Mary-Louise Parker in the title role, along with Michael Cerveris, Paul Sparks, Peter Stormare, Helen Carey, Lois Markle and Ana Reeder.

Critics' reviews were uniformly negative.

Asking rhetorically, "Who would do such a thing?" Ben Brantley of The New York Times compares this piece to 'Twilight' in his pan: "That affectless, amateurish acting I’d been seeing onstage, with its flat-line readings and saggy pauses, was all in the name of creating the illusion of people already dead.... That (Rickson) is now responsible for one of the worst revivals I have ever, ever seen has me flummoxed. Mr. Rickson’s Seagull was a fluidly integrated production in which everyone seemed to exist in the same moment and in the same universe. With this Hedda it’s not just that everyone is bad. It’s that they’re all bad in their own, different ways. At times you feel that because of some confusing detours in the back alleys of Broadway, actors who were meant to be in -- I dunno, anything from Grease to Equus -- showed up at the wrong place."

Lamenting that the revival "is an aggressively contemporary take on the play, but one whose insights seem more perverse than illuminating," Variety's David Rooney front loads his review with a dire assessment: "Mary-Louise Parker's interpretation of Hedda Gabler was probably always going to be a little wacky, but in the Roundabout revival she's the loopiest of a fairly off-kilter bunch. Using a disappointingly blunt new adaptation by Christopher Shinn, this is a production so doused in glum eccentricities that Ibsen's terminally bored neurotic has already reached the apex of her caged desperation before a line of dialogue has even been spoken. And while there's entertainment to be had from Parker's curt sarcasm and nutty double-takes, too many perplexing choices make the great play unaffecting and the irrational actions of its self-destructive antiheroine unsurprising."

Regretting that "two big hurdles blocked (Parker's) path this time: the adaptation and the direction," Bloomberg's John Simon is outraged: "Why is it deemed necessary for minor American playwrights to adapt masterpieces whose status is owed precisely to their timelessness and universality? ... Ian Rickson, a British director who already did serious current damage to The Seagull, now gets to wreak havoc on another masterwork. Rickson’s people do not behave like proper, staid, 19th-century Scandinavians, the source, in large part, of Hedda’s ennui. Rather, they carry on like hot-blooded Sicilians storming through 'Cavalleria Rusticana' minus the music.... There are moments when Parker’s charm and talent keep Hedda afloat, but all too often she drowns in misdirection."

Quipping that this revival "is too contemporary by half," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News only awards two out of five stars: "Nuance seems to have flown the coop.... But there's no sense of her psychology. Hopeless? Helpless? Repressed? Bored? ... Parker... is an unpredictable actress, and that's what makes her so exciting. But in this outing, she's got two switches: seethe and boil over."

Concluding that "Ibsen deserves better. So do we," New York Post's Barbara Hoffman piles on in her two-out-of-four star review: "(Parker's) sultry star turn in Ibsen's 1890 shocker is the only reason, really, to see the uneven revival that opened last night at the Roundabout. The fault lies not in its stars -- well, partly ... -- but in Christopher Shinn's tin-eared adaptation.... (The) playwright has given Hedda some terrifically bitchy zingers (this is the rare Ibsen production that keeps 'em laughing), (but) he's lost much of the music along the way. His is a clunkier, more contemporary Gabler."

Noting "wow, is it ever weird. Unfortunately, it is also not interesting-and really not good at all," Newsday's Linda Winer blasts the production: "Parker, a thoroughly modern theater creature before she became the world's favorite pot-selling mom in 'Weeds,' has many fascinating qualities. What we learn from the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival, alas, is that period versatility is not one of them. At least as disappointing, and perhaps more surprising, is the awkward staging by Ian Rickson.... Except for a couple of erotic flourishes -- including a nonsensical opening shot of Parker's bare butt and breast -- this is a stodgy and straightforward version of the Ibsen's pioneering mad-housewife classic."

This is one case in which I fully agreed with the consensus. While I profess to be a longtime fan of Ms. Parker's and have thoroughly enjoyed some of her previous stage work, her portrayal of Hedda Gabler left me cold. You may find my SOB Review by clicking here.

Roundabout Theatre Company's mounting of Hedda Gabler is currently slated to run through March 29.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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