Hedda Gabler isn't exactly marriage material. She's the kind of woman who's easy to fall in love with as a theatrical character, but if she were a real person, you'd be wise to flee at the first sight of her. She's vindictive. She's moody. She's an obnoxious, aristocratic snob. She spends money like there's no tomorrow. Worst of all, she loves to play with guns.
It becomes painfully clear from the first scene that this woman is dangerous, both to herself and to everyone around her. Watch your back. She's a menace to both high and low society.
A new production of Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece Hedda Gabler recently opened at the Cell Theatre. Presented by Fusion Theatre Company and based in part on a staging by Joe Feldman, this is wicked fine theater performed by some of the best actors in town. Fusion has staged this production as theater-in-the-round, with chairs, flower vases and performers carefully arranged at the center of the theater like pieces on a chessboard.
It's the beautiful Hedda Gabler, as played by Jacqueline Reid, who dominates this board. She's so good at manipulating the pieces that the other characters aren't even aware they're playing her game.
The story is too intricate to be easily summarized. The play opens with Hedda returning from a six-month honeymoon with her new husband, George Tesman (Ross Kelly). George is a scholar whose specialty is the textile industry in 14th century Brabant—a boring subject if ever there was one that George makes utterly intolerable.
George is a doofus, but he's a good-hearted doofus, yet Hedda makes it clear from the beginning that she loathes him and everything he stands for. She spends much of the first part of the play expressing her immense boredom with him, making it clear to everyone that she deserves a far grander life. To inject some passion into her dull existence, she commits emotional adultery with Judge Brack (William Sterchi), a family friend, as well as George's brilliant but self-destructive academic rival, Lovborg (Vic Browder).
Ibsen's plot, as translated by Doug Hughes, is a streamlined, well-oiled machine that streaks toward its target like the latest classified piece of deadly military engineering. The dialogue is fast and funny, and the story is riddled with surprising twists and turns. Best of all, this talented cast and crew live up to the ingenious material.
Kelly is ideal as the obtuse academic. He has some of the plays funniest lines. Sterchi brings a sinister edge to most characters he plays. Equal parts charm and rottenness, he'd make an excellent Satan. As the vaguely slimy Judge Brack, he's pitch perfect.
Browder brings a cool, mysterious strangeness to Lovborg. Ninette S. Mordaunt is genuinely sweet as George's doting Aunt Julia. Laurie Thomas takes a nervous neurotic turn as Thea, a lower class woman who makes the mortal mistake of confiding in Hedda that she loves Lovborg. Even Catherine Gordon as Berta, the maid, melds seamlessly into this carefully composed universe of deceit.
Reid plays the key role, though, and in the end not much else matters. It's Hedda who pulls the strings, even the ones attached to her own wrists and ankles. Reid is so perfect for this character. To say her performance is nuanced doesn't do justice to how deeply she digs into Hedda's alluringly apocalyptic personality.
Hedda is a truly despicable person, but you can't help but empathize with her. She doesn't want anything to do with the restrictive morality and manners of her boring husband. She wants the world, and especially her own life, to be filled with passion and beauty, even if these things can only be brought about through inexcusable acts of violence and destruction.
You might not want to meet her. You certainly wouldn't want to marry her. But you have to respect her. There is no other option.
Hedda Gabler, a play by Henrik Ibsen presented by Fusion Theatre Company, runs through May 22 at the Cell Theatre (700 First Street NW). Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. $22 general, $17 students/seniors. Thursdays (excluding opening night) feature a $10 student rush (with valid ID) and a $15 actor rush (with professional résumé. 766-9412.