March 13, 2006
Reviewer: STEVEN LEIGH MORRIS
GO HEDDA GABLER A year and a half after premiering as Hedda Gabler in Australia, Cate Blanchett makes her U.S. stage debut in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Ibsen’s play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Blanchett dazzles in a show that falls into a number of traps, under Robyn Nevin’s chiseled, hearty staging. Blanchett’s husband, Andrew Upton, wrote the adaptation, which, though marbled with British colloquialisms, is sufficiently lean to roll right over the play’s deadwood piles of exposition. When asked by Aunt Julia (Julie Hamilton) how his honeymoon went, Hedda’s husband, a scholar of medieval anthropology named Tesman (Anthony Weigh), replies enthusiastically, “It was brilliantly, brilliantly productive.” Upton’s adaptation invigorates Tesman to a degree not seen in prior versions, and Weigh portrays him as a neurotic, emotional clown, sobbing at the death of a sickly relative, while Hedda, lounging on a downstage divan, rolls her eyes from a boredom beyond ennui.
It’s one of many striking and funny moments, but when Hedda explains to her husband on bended knee that it was her love for him that motivated her to burn an original manuscript penned by her ex-lover (Aden Young), in order to protect her spouse from competition, the twerp swallows the bait whole. Tesman’s unfettered stupidity turns him into more of a foil than a character, and upsets the balance of the tragedy.
Recalling a young Zoe Caldwell, the husky-voiced, slender Blanchett writhes snake-like. Attired in shapely gowns with Jacobean collars (costumes by Kristian Fredrikson), she compensates for Hedda’s life of tawdry pettiness with bursts of mockery, sarcasm and irritability, which she enacts in a rainbow of emotional colors. She is, in fact, so luminously diabolical at the outset, you wonder where she could possibly go in Act 2 as the well-known plot plays itself out, and the answer is, not very far.
Her depiction of a woman suffering from unbearable tedium is monstrously entertaining; the underlying causes of that tedium remain uncharted, and those causes are really the play’s soul. Sydney Theatre Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, New York; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 26. (718) 636-4182. (Steven Leigh Morris)