KPBS AIRDATE: June 14, 1995
“Hedda Gabler” is many things: a summation of the dramatic theories and skills of the great nineteenth century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, considered the father of modern drama. To many, it is a perfectly structured play. It centers on a contradictory and unforgettable character. It is a problem play, perhaps a social criticism. But it is not a melodrama.
In its current, multicultural airing at the Old Globe, it is a trifle, with overblown performances and inappropriate histrionics, completely devoid of any subtlety or subtext. Every decision here is wrong, except perhaps the costuming. The set is early Pier 1, with low-budget lawn furniture sprinkled around what should be a starkly elegant Norwegian sitting room. The lighting is uninspired; the music is fraught with dark, portentous strings. And every directorial move is misconceived.
Where there should be a seething undertone, everything bubbles up on the surface. Instead of playing a spoiled, impulsive, insecure, frightened, desperate, tormented manipulator, CCH Pounder has reduced Hedda to a monstrous harridan, a cruel and beastly woman who premeditates all the destruction she brings on others, and delights in it. There are no contradictions in this character: she is perfectly hateful. She never shows any fear or vulnerability, or any other motivation for hurting others except for sheer ruthlessness. Pounder is playing “Medea.” Why anyone would be attracted to her is beyond me.
But all the men onstage are, from the malevolent Judge Brack, who, in Ron Glass’ portrayal, is only missing a humongous waxed mustache to twirl, to Hedda’s former lover and lifelong flame, Eilert Lovborg. In the hands of the talented John Campion, who used to be known as Mario Arrambide, Lovborg is merely a lunatic. He is a brute (Campion seems to be reprising his brilliant star turn in “The Hairy Ape” from the La Jolla Playhouse a few seasons back). You’d never believe he would or could compete academically with Hedda’s bookish husband; he shows no sign of intelligence, only borderline insanity. There is no particular reason the hapless, here rather colorless Thea Elvsted would be attracted to him, let alone Hedda herself. He comes on like a demented Neanderthal.
As Hedda’s husband, the supposedly boring academic, George Tesman, John Leonard Thompson is highly spirited. He fairly leaps across the stage, deftly defying all her descriptions of him — as well as Ibsen’s. If Hedda really had a husband this lively, maybe she wouldn’t be so bored and miserable. Even the maid, Berte, is poorly motivated in this production. Only Patricia Fraser, as Tesman’s Aunt Julia, seems to be in the right play. Everyone else is in a different piece.
Most heinous of all, the opening and closing scenes hammer home the absurd theme that to Hedda, Happiness is a Warm Gun. Two deaths at the end just weren’t enough. Someone should’ve killed off this whole production.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.