Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A crack shot

I haven't read much of Henrik Ibsen's work, but what I have read, I like. I like that Ibsen thought theatre could be entertaining and yet still make you think about things. Enemy of the People, A Doll's House. I hadn't read Hedda Gabler in years. In fact, I'm not sure what made me pick it up again. But pick it up I did, and I thought I'd write quick few things here about it.

Quick synopsis - Hedda and her new husband, Jorgen Tesman, have just returned from their honeymoon. The two set up house, and Tesman is expecting an imminent appointment to a professorship. Hedda, daughter of a well-known general, seems bored and uninterested in all of the above until she hears news of Ejlert Lovborg, an old flame who has returned to town. Apparently, Lovborg was dissoloute when she knew him, and has since reformed due to the attentions of a married woman (Thea Elvsted). This raises ire in Hedda, who can't imagine that someone other than herself could inspire reform (or much of anything, really) in Lovborg.

Hedda sets herself about destroying the two lovers and Lovborg's new leaf. And succeeds. However, in doing so, she exposes her own nature to someone who'd like nothing more than to extract his own lurid favors from her. Seeing no way out, she kills herself with her father's pistol.

First off, just let me say that, for the 1800s, this play is pretty dang racy. Everyone is hopping into bed with everyone else, or planning to, and folks are shooting off guns and burning up each other's brilliant manuscripts and setting each other up for a life of ruin all over the place. If you think Ibsen is just about dusty old parlors, you aren't paying very close attention.

Second - Hedda: on the surface, she is a very unsympathetic character. She seems to take pleasure in making people uncomfortable, saying things to see the reaction they will elicit, flexing her power to manipulate others. But what one wonders is what drives her to do such things. I think there's no question that she has mental health issues. I think maybe also she feels trapped, trapped because she has a powerful nature, but she's in a powerless position. She's the daughter of a general, but her only battlefield exists in the confines of polite drawing room conversation.

It's also interesting that it's her husband who cares for his sick aunt, who delights in his close family, who is ecstatic to care for Hedda. Tesman is the one who comes off as the warm, caregiving character (traditionally the female role). In contrast, his new bride Hedda has an almost maniacal need to destroy, and won't even consider her potential role as a mother (creator of life).

Anyhoo, Hedda seems to chafe against the yoke society has placed on her. I think she sees her acts as rebellion against . . . society's expectations? She sees her suicide as noble, heroic, free, beautiful. A brave act in the face of certain defeat.

I have never seen this production live. I'd love to, but I'm not sure if anyone in this market would touch it.


A. Boyd C. said...

Lance did Hedda a couple of times.

A lot of people interpret her the way you do. I think it's what Ibsen intended. She always just seemed like a megalomaniac to me though.

Some people just aren't happy unless they're controlling everybody around them. A military career might have given her a place to vent these demons, but I sure wouldn't want to be one of her soldiers.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

I think she could easily be played as a borderline psychotic. Talk about a modern interpretation.

But I think she'd work best onstage as something more relatable. Plus, it allows Tesman to be her foil.