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Hedda Gabler

Presented by and at New York Theatre Workshop, casting by Jack Doulin, 79 E. Fourth St., NYC, Sept. 21-Oct. 24.

The Flemish director Ivo van Hove, working with an American cast, has ripped "Hedda Gabler" out of Henrik Ibsen's 19th century. No more suburban villa, no more overstuffed bourgeois drawing room; instead, a vast space, designed by Jan Versweyveld, with unpainted sheet-rock walls, a garbage chute, a fire extinguisher, and a security system to buzz people in from downstairs.

Van Hove's characters (it would be hard to call them Ibsen's) are free with their bodies and with their emotions. They throw themselves full-length on the sofa; they lounge on the floor. They suddenly begin shouting at each other. Judge Brack, the friendly neighbor, slams Hedda against the wall several times; while blackmailing her to be his sex slave, he dribbles a can of tomato juice over her. Amid the tumult, the complex web of relationships among Ibsen's characters is never spun.

Ibsen was writing about people imprisoned in rigid codes of decorum; the play is built on the tension between this decorum and their desires. In this production, decorum does not exist; the tension is between van Hove's direction and Ibsen's play. Elizabeth Marvel has a dry, cutting voice expressive of Hedda's despair; she and Glenn Fitzgerald as Lovborg, the man she loves, work up some sexual heat together. But it is difficult to convey fear of sex and scandal, so crucial to Hedda's plight, in a pink satin slip (costumes by Kevin Guyer). As played by Jason Butler Harner, Hedda's husband is a breezy, good-looking fellow, unrecognizable as the clueless bookworm who bores Hedda so unbearably. John Douglas Thompson as Judge Brack, Ana Reeder as Lovborg's lover, Mary Beth Peil as Aunt Julia, and Elzbieta Czyzewska as the maid are presumably executing van Hove's intentions. I enjoyed watching to see what the director would do next, but I doubt if someone new to the play could make sense of it in this production.

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