Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler is my very favorite type of female character-- beautiful and mean. She follows in line with Estella, Scarlet, Blanche, Tracey, Ingrid, and Elizabeth. (A gold star for the first to place each name. One isn't actually a character, but a real person. That is your only hint.)

Mary-Louise Parker, who I'm obsessed with, is starring in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler on Broadway. And I sat fifth row center last night. (This is why I live in New York. Because I can read about something on the train, then have an opening preview ticket in my hand thirty minutes later. This alone makes all the bad stuff worth it. It just does.)

Parker was phenomenal. As predicted. As told by NY Mag, in the past decade no fewer than three major names have played Ibsen's manipulative leading lady here: Kate Burton (acclaimed on Broadway), Cate Blanchett (ditto at BAM), and now Mary-Louise Parker. Its said to be the single most sought after role for female actors today, and I can see why. Its a firecracker role. And Parker stunningly ripped it to shreds with her perfect timing and biting glances. She made the role fresh, big, and contemporary. We couldn't take our eyes off of her.

Now, Henrik Ibsen was a big deal at my college... the Scand's LOVE him. This of course made me reject him for many years, I found the Ibsen-gush-fests incredibly boring. He was, to me, the tip of pretension and it made me yawn. I know I wouldn't have seen this show had Mary-Louise not taken top billing, and I have to admit that I did swallow a bit of my better-than-Ibsen mantra and completely enjoyed the script. He knows how to write a leading lady.

In Hedda Gabler, Ibsen explored psychological conflicts that transcended a simple rejection of Victorian conventions. This was shocking at the time, and still quite shocking today. While we have just about had enough of crazy-suburban-entrapment stories, we don't often see a housewife shinning her pistols and shooting at the neighbors for fun. Its delicious theater.

Parker's deadpan annoyance and flat sarcasm juiced up Hedda like never before. The curtains open to a seemingly hung-over Hedda waking up to a room filled with sheet-covered furniture. She stands up slowly and begins to fling off the sheets with disgust, pushing around chairs, and clearing off tables with a fell swoop. She walks lazily and bored, but with fire in her eyes.

She speaks to her dewy-eyed husband with clear annoyance and curt responses. She offends everyone accidental-on-purpose, and shoves bouquets of flowers to the floor before torching their greetings in the wood burning stove. See... you would want to play her too.

The twist in Hedda comes from the idea that despite her awfulness, her terrifying meanness, we want Hedda to come out on top. We are cheering for her to escape her suffocating marriage to the boring, academic, bald man and to run off with her crazy and unstable old flame. But she doesn't. As I've said before, stupid Melanie Wilkes will always get Ashley. Hubble will never chose Katie. The boring nice girl will come out on top and the terribly gorgeous vixen will remain alone and fiery and ever-angry.

But that's okay... in the end, Ibsen gave us something even better than love. He gave us freedom and bravery. Sure, it was in the form of suicide (ha.) but it was an absolute triumph for our femme fatale. That gunshot made our mouths water.

In addition to one of best plays I've seen on Broadway, my evening was capped by lovely surprise. I scored a new best friend. Her name is Bubbles and she's 80 years old and she wears sparkly gold glasses and a fur coat. I had already made up my mind to NOT talk to those around me... I wasn't in the mood for chatter. But when I stood to let this tiny white-haired woman take her seat, she exclaimed something that I took as, "My, you are tall!" (I get this ALL of the time. Like, three times a day.) To which I gave my current automatic response... a bored "Yep, I know. Very tall." To which she responded, "No, I said you're gorgeous!" to which I responded, "Well, I like you." The rest is history.

We talked about New York, and shows we've seen and her failed attempt at an art gallery and her summers on the cape. We talked about how sad it is that publishing is taking a hit and may never recover, and about our shared love for the Times Art section (its the only section I read daily, we both admitted.) We agreed that seeing theater alone is the only way to go, yet we're seeing Becky Shaw together sometime next week. The crazy adventures of Bubbles and Sarah: more to follow.


David Henly said...

Hedda and Bubbles - a triumph! I'll try your quiz: Estella - Miss Havisham's niece played by Jean Simmons, Scarlet - GWTW, Blance - Tennessee William's spectacular creation in SND, Ingrid - Bergman (not typically in this role but played Hedda opposite Michael Redgrave in the 1963 version), Elizabeth - not sure but i'm going with Bette (Davis) in almost all her movies - All About Eve, Little Foxes, etc...(i think she was beautiful but many don't), Tracey - no clue. Sarah you are living the artistic life of my dreams. Makes my life as a surgeon seem boring. At least i'm 6'2"!

La said...

okay, so i know most of them...
Estella: great expecations
scarlet: gone with the wind
blanche: a streetcar named desire
tracey (lord): the philadelphia story
ingrid and elizabeth? i'll have to think about it.

Sarah Butler said...

you're both CLOSE.

Estella- Great Expectations

Scarlet- Gone with the Wind

Blanche- A Streetcar Named Desire

Tracey- Philadelphia Story (she wasn't mean necessarily but she still fits in this category)

Ingrid- White Oleander (one of my favorite novels... a GREAT character. vicious. That was a tough one, only Holly would know probably.)

Elizabeth- Elizabeth Taylor. I know this because I'm obsessed with her autobiography as told through jewelry. HA. she's TERRIBLE but (used to be) jaw dropping beautiful.

that was a fun game. wish i had more players :)

MeggieSue said...

Ugh! I forgot to do this on my "To Do list" yesterday and you already posted the answers. However, I'm SURE I would have gotten them all correct!

La said...

i knew ingrid was from a book!!! ughh, i was so close. and i should have known it was elizabeth taylor. i almost said queen elizabeth but knew that was wrong. meghan, love that you put this on your to do list.