HENRIK IBSEN'S "Hedda Gabler," currently enjoying a flawed but remarkably involving production at Baltimore's Center Stage, is a succession of overlapping adult power plays, a complicated social diagram made up of shifting sexual triangles.
Hedda Tesman (nee Gabler) is a modern Salome, amorally amusing herself by toying with the lives of others. Recently married to Jorgen Tesman, a stalwart but less-than- scintillating scholar, the bored, beautiful ice princess cunningly rebels against her placid, passionless middle-class future, introducing a chill into the warm bosom of the uncomplicated Tesman family.
Tana Hicken creates an almost manic Hedda, with an excess of barely restrained fury. While the rest of the cast is at 45 rpm, Hicken's Hedda spins at 78; it's appropriate, as Hedda is usually several paces ahead of everyone else, strolling about brandishing her father's pistols out of boredom, perching tensely with birdlike alertness, speaking sharply in her brittle, constricted voice.
Obsessed with holding power over others, stewing and chewing over things she could have had and should have done, this complex creature engineers her own tragedy, succumbing to the impulse to destroy what she cannot have. Probing with swift needlelike jabs, Hedda finds her victims' tender spots, her eyes glittering with malicious interest. Director Irene Lewis often positions Hicken on the sidelines, coiled on a couch, making swift slashes with Hedda's casually brutal observations.
The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, and Georgia Southcotte is particularly notable as Tesman's breathless and adorable Auntie Julie, whose hurt is palpable when Hedda coolly snubs her. As smug, cynical Judge Brack and reformed hedonist Eilert Lovborg, both of whom have been andcontinue to be involved with the calculating Hedda, Adrian Sparks and Joseph Hindy set up convincing, distinctive connections with Hicken.
Director Lewis paces Ibsen's lengthy script at a clip, and the result is brisk and entertaining. The speed is a problem in a few key scenes, however, particularly in Hedda's startling suicide scene: Tesman and the others react too quickly. And the climactic scene in which Hedda gives Lovborg her father's gun -- Lovborg's suicide weapon -- fails to achieve its chilling impact, perhaps because of a confusing choice of words in Kenneth Cavander's otherwise admirably fresh new translation.
Lewis has put a personal stamp on the play by inserting two revealing fugue-like scenes, in which Hedda, dramatically silhouetted, is dressed in her elaborate gowns by servants, while Philip Glass' music, paralleling the drama's emotions, builds from cool tension to unbearable tumult.
HEDDA GABLER -- At Baltimore's Center Stage through March 31.