HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen; directed by Thomas W. Stephens; lighting design by Lea Hart; set by Stephen; with Madge Daly, Madelyn Coleman, Allan Jirikowic, Margaret Huffstickler, Elizabeth Pratt, Bart Whiteman and Akim Nowak. At the Source Theatre, 1809 14th St. NW, with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through June 21.

When the play's cast of seven outnumbers the audience by better than 2 to 1, you might suspect that there is something dreadfully wrong with the production on stage.

But that is not the case with the Source Theatre's staging of Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler." It's really a quite respectable production for a small company with limited resources. If the performances are erratic and uneven at times, they never are embarrassing.

Like most nonprofit community theatrical troupes, Sources depends on free listings of its productions and word-of-mouth advertising to draw its audiences. With "Hedda Gabler," the word apparently has not gotten around. It takes love and dedication to the theater to go on stage before an audience of three and perform as if the 75-seat house were packed.

The role of Hedda Gabler -- a cold, self-centered woman without conscience -- offers the same challenge to an actress as that a Hamlet does to an actor. She must somehow suggest what makes this woman so desirable to three men and win some understanding -- even pity -- for her at the end.

Margaret Huffsticker captures all of Hedda's bitchiness and frustrated boredom. But she is less successful with the other nuances of this demanding role. She should stroke, however deceptively, as well as slash. Midway through the second act, Huffstickler does suggest a more complex Hedda, a woman who wants to break the bounds of convention to get a glimpse of a world she is "forbidden to know," a woman who wants power over the lives of others while being free herself.

Ibsen, the dour Norwegian with his problem plays, never has been noted for his sense of humor. But, as Glenda Jackson has proved, an actress can use humor to deepen the role of Hedda as she slyly manipulates others to achieve her destructive ends.

As Tesman, the simple-souled scholar whom Hedda has married, Allan Jirikowic is a perfect foil for Hedda's contempt.He has a wonderfully expressive "humph" to punctuate Tesman's good-natured and oblivious utterances. Elizabeth Pratt, with her fingers constantly moving nervously, makes a sympathetic role of Thea, who has had the courage to leave a domineering husband. Akim Nowak is the tormented, brilliant scholar whom Hedda can be devil but not control completely.

Bart Whiteman, Source's director and founder, is a bit heavy with the heartiness in the role of Judge Brack, the wordly bachelor who wants to make a triangle of Hedda's marriage and finally achieves power over her by blackmail.

Thomas Stephens, who doubled as both director and set designer, does a creditable job in both roles. He has come up with a handsome collection of Victoriana to mount the production.