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Review: 'Hedda Gabler' from Ark Theatre Company at the Hayworth

June 18, 2009 |  2:15 pm

Just what are the demons that drive Hedda Gabler to wreak destruction on everyone around her? The question has spawned countless interpretations of Henrik Ibsen's 1890 drama and its richly complex anti-heroine. In the Ark Theatre Company's ambitious but uneven revival, frustration, boredom and malice are all apparent motives, but the latter dominates to an extent that blunts the broader social resonance.

Director Les Miller and adapter Paul Wagar have reset the play in 1955, just outside New York City, putting updated emphasis on the domestic complacency to which Hedda (Julie Granata) has resigned herself through marriage to milquetoast scholar George (Darrel Guilbeau). 

Granata's Hedda immediately impresses with self-absorbed petulance and open contempt for George. She's at her deliciously sarcastic best playing cruel cat-and-mouse games with former lover Eilert Lovborg (Zack Hamra), a recovering alcoholic genius whose scandalous past represents the forbidden fruit denied Hedda by her aristocratic upbringing. For all his supposed intellect, though, this Lovborg isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. 

The only dramatic match for Hedda is her nemesis, the charmingly corrupt judge Brack (Peter Colburn), who stands out amid mostly one-note caricatures. The production is virtually devoid of subtext, broadcasting at high amplitude every neurotic twitch and turn of Hedda's campaign to undermine Lovborg's potential happiness. 

Adhering closely to Ibsen's plot points, the adaptation lets metaphorical connections to 1950s suburbia remain implicit -- other than the period costumes, nothing in the performances specifically evokes the era's limited fulfillment options for women with Hedda's brains and talent. If anything, more textual liberties would help smooth over distracting artifacts like sending critical communications by messenger instead of just picking up a phone.

-- Philip Brandes 

"Hedda Gabler," Ark Theatre Company at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 11. $20-22. (323) 969-1707. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.