NEW YORK – Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company has brought its antipodal 2004 hit production of "Hedda Gabler" to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater. It’s a thrilling staging of the Ibsen classic.
Cate Blanchett, in an incomparable performance as Hedda, fed off an excellent cast on the way to the stunning climax and unforgettable last line.
Hedda’s determination to live as much of her life on her own terms is slowly disintegrating under pressure from societal realities.
She’s also unwilling to do what it will take to make herself happy.
If she even knows what that is.
Her choices have worsened her situation.
She’s recently married Jorgen Tesman (Anthony Weigh), a ridiculous, turtle-like man-an insipid academic whose chief talent is collating and arranging papers.
Her sexuality is checked by her fear of scandal, so there’s no release there.
The worst fate imaginable may lie ahead. She may be pregnant.
"My time will come!" she insists through it all.
She’s well aware of what is happening to her, so her husband’s insufferable Aunt Julle (Julie Hamilton) and others become frequent targets of her withering sarcasm and rampant unhappiness, concealed just enough to keep even the most perceptive among them-Judge Brack-unaware of just how destructive she is in her current state.
She gets immense pleasure from the teasing, but it’s not enough and the emptiness quickly rushes back in.
Her crisis escalates with the appearance of Thea Elvsted, a former classmate of Hedda’s who comes to Tesman for help concerning Ejlert Lovborg (Aden Young), a brilliant but dissolute writer, unaware that Hedda and Lovborg were once romantically linked.
Thea, unhappily married to an older man, is doing what Hedda fears most and Hedda despises her for it.
It should be her fingers in Lovborg’s fate, not Thea’s-that silly woman for whom Hedda still feels a delicious compulsion to pull that hair-just as she had when the two went to school together.
When the situation Hedda attempts to manipulate to fantasize off of goes awry, she’s suddenly face to face with the things she’s feared most.
Robyn Nevin directed with an unrelenting ruthlessness that underscored the cutting humor in Andrew Upton’s adaptation.
Blanchett was at her most menacing and comic best in her ice-cold, dusky lower register.
The cast was flawless. Especially good performances came from Hugo Weaving as an eely Judge Brack and Clarke as Thea.
Fiona Crombie’s set was elegant, dominated by divans for Blanchett’s slender body to drape.
Nick Schlieper’s lighting design amplified the play’s unstable atmosphere and Hedda’s crisis.
Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes enhanced the autumnal mood.
This forceful staging, from its woman-on-the-edge opening scene to its final tableau of disbelief, captured completely what Ibsen wanted "Hedda Gabler" to be about.
* * *
"Hedda Gabler." A play by Henrik Ibsen. Adapted by Andrew Upton. A Sydney Theatre Company production. At the BAM Harvey, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, through March 28. Tickets: $30-$85. Call (718) 636-4100.