In the 1890s, Henrik Ibsen's drama "Hedda Gabler" shocked upper class audiences with its candid depiction of loveless marriage, manipulation and scandal. Yet the play's reputation grew - audiences were drawn to the moody characters, and the title role was catnip for ambitious actresses. That's because Hedda is a magnetic, intelligent woman living in material comfort ... yet she's unhappy. As the play begins, she's just returned from her honeymoon with the humdrum Tesman. Listen to the passionless way that Hedda - played with steely intensity by Capital Stage's Stephanie Gularte - addresses her husband.
Hedda: "What have you got there, Tesman?"
Tesman: "I found some indispensible new books for my research."
Hedda: "Your academic research?"Judge Brack: "Yes, his academic research, Mrs. Tesman."
Hedda chafes in the constrictive role of dutiful wife. She sometimes celebrates the freedom of her single past by getting out her ornate pistols, which are family heirlooms. Actress Gularte flashes an enigmatic smile when she pulls the trigger.
In polite society, Hedda can be somewhat a loose cannon, too, making odd remarks, doing things she has trouble explaining.
Hedda: I can't help myself. These impulses come over me all of a sudden, and I can't seem to resist them. I don't know how to explain it."
Judge Brack: I do. You're not really happy, that's what it is."
Hedda: "Why should I be?"
Contentment is a mirage in this well-executed drama. And needless to say, big trouble develops when Hedda's erratic former flame turns up.
Stephanie Gularte gives a commanding performance as Hedda, and director Janis Stevens handles this turbulent mix of emotions and impulses with deep insight and careful pacing.
Even after 120 years, this play is still breathtaking, because the complex and tragic aspects of human nature, which Ibsen captured so well, haven't really changed.
The Capital Stage production of "Hedda Gabler" continues through June 16th.