Hedda Gabler

is a deeply psychological play about deeply complex characters, and it has been endlessly interesting to both theater-goers and theater-makers. Students and scholars debate about it, and it is said that Freud learned Norwegian in order to read Ibsen in the original.

The title character, played in Mauckingbird Theatre Company's new production by Jennie Eisenhower, has always been the imperious and hot-stuff center of her provincial social world. She married her least likely suitor, a mild-mannered professor, George Tesman (Dito van Reigersberg) and they have just returned from their honeymoon.

Hedda is clearly unhappy, chafing against the bourgeois limitations of domestic life, desperately bored and dangerously restless. She is rude to Tesman's sweet aunt (Cheryl Williams), cruelly manipulative of her school friend Thea (Jessica DalCanton), and flirty with the powerful Judge Brack (the too-young Matthew Lorenz). This dysfunctional domestic calm is disturbed by the return of Eilert Lovborg (Sarah Sanford), a wild and degenerate intellectual who has been reformed by Thea's goodness.

Mauckingbird's spin on this familiar plot is that Lovborg is a woman, not a man as in the original. The company's mission is to reread classic plays through a gay lens, a tactic that had interesting and impressive results in its first two productions,

Shakespeare's R&J


The Misanthrope

. And Caroline Kava's lesbian interpretation of

Hedda Gabler

has some plausibility: Maybe that's why Hedda hates being married, maybe that's why she's obsessed with her military father and with his pistols. Restricted by 19th-century skirts and corsets and further hedged in by her pregnancy, she needs to control something or someone, since she clearly has no control over her own life.

But subtexts are supposed to be sub: If everything is revealed, relationships and personalities are simplified and flattened out. Multiple motives, cynicism, panic, yearning, doubt, subtlety of every stripe and shade - it all disappears. Under Peter Reynolds' direction, this overwrought, melodramatic production makes caricatures of these characters. All the emotion is exaggerated and telegraphed. These aren't people, they're stage inventions, and this isn't human behavior, it's acting. That the maid (Kristen O'Rourke) hops around like a deferential bunny, dust cap flapping, only adds to the unintentional parodic quality of the production.

Hedda tells Judge Brack, "I'm bored, I'm bored, I tell you." Me, too.

Hedda Gabler

Through Monday by Mauckingbird Theater Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets $20. Information: 215-923-8909 or

» READ MORE: www.mauckingbirdtheatreco.org