Hedda Gabler | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Hedda Gabler, Northlight Theatre.

Whether melodramatic monster or proto-feminist martyr, Ibsen's heroine refuses to be tamed. The tragedy doesn't age: every twist seems unstoppable, and boredom--of all feelings--becomes a force for evil. Pampered Hedda, as poisoned by false ideals as Emma Bovary, is even more corrupted by the lack of worthy work for a woman of her time and class; inevitably so much untapped energy festers, making mischief even as Hedda yearns for death, the one sure dispersal of energy. To produce the play it's enough to steep this intricately plotted, leanly written work in its hothouse world of repressed sexuality and dangerous indolence.

Russell Vandenbroucke's dead-on staging has nothing to prove, just a story to tell--so cleanly and directly it seems inevitable. Impeccable casting helps. Michelle Duffy, an ice-queen Hedda, seems a tornado in a corset. If she's more composed than most Heddas--almost sedated--that makes her recklessness and twisted courage the more startling. Cynthia Judge, playing the far more courageous Thea Elvsted, subversively cloaks her daring in ordinary respectability. As Hedda's hapless, ultimately amoral husband Tesman, Jeffrey Hutchinson suggests every academic second-rater who can climb only if others fall. His spinelessness is cunningly contrasted with David New's vitality as Hedda's dynamic former lover, whose genius threatens her mediocrity. Bruce A. Young is commanding as the judge who dares to play power games with Hedda, and Linda Buchanan's constricted set is as artfully confining as Jordan Ross's period-painful costumes.

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