Broadway Features and Reviews
Is Hedda Gabler The Female Hamlet?
By Emily Moore, Broadway Magazine
This Broadway season is a big one for brilliant playwrights. The likes of Mamet and Chekhov have seen great success in timeless masterpieces like "The Seagull" and contemporary gems like "Speed-The-Plow." And now, Henrik Ibsen's classic Hedda Gabler comes onto the scene from the Roundabout Theatre Company, with big stars and a timeless script. Ibsen's profoundly haunting story of a desperately unhappy housewife and her descent into despair begins its limited run at the American Airlines Theatre on January 25.
The show stars Golden Globe winner Mary-Louise Parker, the second star of the hit show Weeds to take the Broadway stage this year. Hunter Parrish, Parker's co-star on the hit Showtime series, starred in the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening earlier this season. And now it is Parker's turn, taking the stage as the inconsolably unhappy and desperately manipulative Hedda, who is dissatisfied with life as a new bride and terrified by the prospect of raising a family. The fiercely independent Hedda Tesman grows increasingly miserable and confused. As Hedda's discontentment causes her to slowly unravel, so do the people around her become impinged on by her manipulation.
Parker is not the first one to take on this haunting role. The show first opened in 1891, and immediately struck a chord with audiences, scandalizing and shocking to some, and profoundly moving to others. Seven years later, the play was performed in America, and the brilliantly complex character of Hedda ensured the role of women in theatre would never be the same. Hedda Gabler shocked audiences, and the portrayal of one of theatre's most complicated characters has garnered much controversy over the years by the actresses who have tackled it.
The famous role of Hedda is not an easy one to play, and critics have been, well, critical about the women who have attempted to take on what some have called "The Female Hamlet." In early reviews, one portrayal of Hedda resulted in what one reviewer called "a marvel of stupidity and nonsense." (New York Sun, April 18, 1918) In 1994, popular actress Kelly McGillis portrayed Hedda, and employed, in the words of the New York Times, "largely two [expressions]." Relying on the character's fluctuation between her seemingly confident and controlled self and her dark and lonely discontent, McGillis played these two variations of Hedda to their full extent, ignoring the complexities and layers of Ibsen's classic character. The Times went on to call her performance "a severe disappointment precisely because it admits so few possibilities."
While portraying a classic and complex Ibsen character is not an easy feat, the play itself has been not only well-received over the years, but it has become a classic. English reviewer Justin Huntly McCarthy, of the London Black and White, said in his review of the original production in 1891 that Hedda is "Ibsen's greatest play, and the most interesting woman that he has created." More recent productions have found success, winning various awards in the past two decades, including two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Revival, one in 1992 and one in 2006.
Can Mary-Louise Parker play the difficult role of Hedda, and can the show garner success? Eagerly awaiting theatre-goers and Ibsen fans will know soon enough.
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