|Moya O'Connell as Hedda Gabler (Photo by Emily Cooper)|
These aren’t the only infelicities in Henry’s interpretation. It’s full of ideas, but almost none of them works. The most baffling: to confirm the fact of Hedda’s pregnancy (which Tesman’s Aunt Juliana, played by Mary Haney, intuits in the opening scene and hints around about), Henry has her throw open the upstage double doors and vomit offstage into the garden, yet a few minutes later Brack exits that way with apparent impunity and not even a moment of distaste. The most flamboyant is the way Henry stages the last minute of the play, when Hedda shoots herself in the piano room: the stage is plunged briefly into expressionistic darkness before her blood sprays the scrim sealing off that room from the salon where the main action takes place. It also sprays the symbolic portrait of General Gabler, Hedda’s father. Now Ibsen makes a point of placing the portrait (which looks pretty amateurish in this version) above the mantel in full view of the audience, so in order to effect hercoup de théâtre Henry has to interpolate an awkward piece of staging earlier whereby Hedda, for no reason, removes it from its accustomed spot and replaces it on the other side of the scrim.
The Shaw fixed on the recent Richard Eyre translation of the play, which is a good one. It keeps all the humor that less sensitive versions sometimes dry out, and instead of repeating “Eh, Hedda?” in that risible way, Tesman just appends “No?” to his sentences, which makes the same point about the banality of his language (and imagination) without burdening the actor who has to make it sound like it comes out of a real human being’s mouth. McManus’s George is bespectacled and balding; he’s dull and clumsy and forgetful – an absent-minded professor type – but not ridiculous. But Henry sticks him with melodramatic gestures you just don’t believe. When Hedda confesses that she burned Eilert’s manuscript – in a desperate move to wield control over his life, though she lies to her husband that it was out of a desire to see him win a professorship over Eilert – McManus becomes hysterical and shakes her, which the mild-mannered Tesman would never do in a million years. (In the puzzling-textual-reading category, I also couldn’t make out Aunt Juliana’s obvious hostility toward Hedda: it isn’t in the text and it turns the benign old aunt, who lives for her nephew George’s happiness and is overjoyed that he’s married the town catch, into a character from some other play. And there must be some point to William Schmuck’s fussy set, with curtains draping the upstage arch that look like moth-eaten gingham and squares above the double doors that look like photographic slides, but I have no idea what it could be.)
|Patrick McManus, Moya O'Connell & Claire Jullien (Photo by Emily Cooper)|
– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and The Boston Phoenix and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style; No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.