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The Curse of Hedda Gabler

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Jolie in Original Sin (2001), and as she might look as Hedda.  

Now it’s Parker’s turn. The Roundabout Hedda opens with the actress splayed out on a sofa, her lovely gams exposed, introducing the idea that Hedda is one sexy, unfulfilled babe. Having seen the production at a preview, I’m not inclined to pass judgment—except to say I loved watching her (she’s one of the few TV or movie stars who can hold the stage)—but there’s little trace of “General Gabler’s daughter.” Parker’s Hedda is a neurotic alpha girl whose desire for power over someone else’s destiny seems more idle than driven by a fierce need for self-fulfillment. The question is whether Parker, so pretty and girlish and neurasthenic, is a natural Hedda—or a born Nora in Hedda’s clothing. She must have wondered that herself. In an interview in Playbill, she says, “People have been asking me to do this play for a long time … I never felt inspired by it. I was leaning toward Doll’s House for awhile.”

Are there any natural Heddas out there? I wish I’d seen Annette Bening’s in Los Angeles—although the actress does best with characters who are themselves actresses, so that you always see the tension between the mask and the uncertain human beneath. The only living English-speaking star who seems a perfect match is—laugh all you like—Angelina Jolie. I have no idea if she has the theatrical chops (movie stars who rule in close-up—like Julia Roberts—have a way of shrinking onstage), but Jolie has the size, the unyielding self-containment, the take-no-prisoners craziness, the will of a temperamental Greek goddess. She routinely incinerates her male co-stars with a simple glare. Jolie would never do an eeny-meeny-miny-mo between Hedda and Nora; she would blow the roof off the most fortified dollhouse. She could demonstrate, definitively, just as Ibsen did, why Hedda is the most alive anti-heroine in modern drama: It’s what happens when you put a very large spirit in a very small box.


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