Scott Parkinson stars as Judge Brack and Kate Fry portrays the title character in "Hedda Gabler" at Writers Theatre | PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROSILOW
When: Through April 6
Where: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Info: (847) 242-6000;
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, with two intermissions
Updated: February 19, 2014 6:02AM
Oh, that Hedda Gabler. A real piece of work, that woman. Insanely restless. Wildly selfish. Never satisfied. Never at peace. Madly status conscious. A master of manipulation of both men and women. Full of a sense of entitlement and condescension. Desperate to possess the love she is incapable of giving. Willing to stop at nothing. Increasingly obsessed by the idea of “a beautiful death.”
The plays of Henrik Ibsen may be the the bane of high school students and many others far beyond the classroom: Too Nordic Victorian, too stiff, too moralistic. But I would defy anyone lucky enough to catch the Writers Theatre production of “Hedda Gabler” — with its dagger-sharp direction by Kimberly Senior, and its breathtakingly hot-and-cold performance by the impossibly elegant Kate Fry — to make such claims. This is a lip-smackingly delicious, tabloid-worthy show awash in sex-and-power games and self-destruction.
At its center is a marriage bound for disaster. Hedda, the daughter of a military man, is not made for connubial bliss (and certainly not for motherhood), yet she wants security. Having run out of options, and unable to capture the mate of her dreams (someone who can exert total control over her, yet also be controlled BY her), she “settles” for a respectable, boring, seemingly promising academic who adores her. He is Jergen Tesman (Sean Fortunato, who ideally balances his character’s mix of decency, pedantry and, finally, outrage).
But then all bets are off as Hedda’s great flame, Eilert Lovborg (Mark L. Montgomery in a searing performance full of quicksilver shifts), returns to town after a period of disgrace. A debauched, self-destructive alcoholic, who also happens to be a brilliant academic, he seems to have been rehabilitated by the far more maternal Thea Elvsted (Chaon Cross), a long-ago schoolmate of Hedda’s caught up in complex domestic issues of her own. But a fiery, mutually destructive charge remains between Lovborg and Hedda, and she simultaneously wants to seduce him and eliminate him as a threat to her husband’s career.
All these machinations are further complicated by the presence of Judge Brack (Scott Parkinson, a grand master of the effete and smarmy). A wealthy, powerful man of polymorphous sexuality, he serves as the snakelike “third party” in the marriage of Hedda and Jergen. Warily observing all this from the sidelines are two older women — Aunt Julia (Barbara Figgins), the loving woman who raised Jergen, and Berte (Kathleen Ruhl), the Tesmans’ housekeeper.
Fry dominates the stage at every turn. A marvel of sly emotional shifts, she nails every one of Hedda’s split-second calculations, rapidfire lies and prim yet vixenlike moves, and her regal bearing is enhanced by Rachel Laritz’s gorgeous peignor and gown designs.
The cast is aided and abetted by Nicholas Rudall’s acid-edged translation. And Jack Magaw’s “Norwegian wood” set suggests secrets and revelations in this production that is as chilling as a Scandinavian winter and as sizzling hot as the wood-burning stove that becomes Hedda’s own little hellfire.