Hedda & Her Double
There are a few plays in the Western theatrical cannon that remain in the forefront of every theatre-maker’s mind. They are taught continuously, dissected, approached from various angles, praised for being the “first” of something and/or called out for archaic views. In many cases, these plays are someone’s first experience with theatre and leave a lasting impression that fills their future work, whether consciously or not. One of those plays is Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 play Hedda Gabler, whose exploration of power, control, decorum, and the female psyche continues to captivate and disgust theatre practitioners and goers alike. Recently, Hedda has made herself known again, this time through Drew Weinstein’s Hedda seen at HERE Arts Center in September.
Conceived and directed by Mr. Weinstein, Hedda explores Ibsen’s original text while also exploring the play’s themes through the music of Nirvana and the works of Sylvia Plath. This production utilized two actresses to play Hedda: Hedda and her double. The actresses are in contrasting colors, one with a corset (Marielle Renée Rosseau) and one without (Maggie Thompson). As the original Hedda, Ms. Rosseau is buttoned up, speaking Ibsen’s original text directly to the rest of the characters. Ms. Thompson, in contrast, is uncorseted and more free; she speaks in Plath’s words, highlighting the psychology of Hedda as she interacts with this world she is so disdainful of. With the exception of a few times when the internal tension grows to an unbearable level, Hedda’s double is unheard by anyone but her counterpart, often speaking over the text of the original play. She seems, in fact, to inspire Hedda to misbehave, to fight against a patriarchal system that aims to keep her quiet and pleasant and womanly. These Heddas know themselves because they watch themselves; they live inside their own mind often appearing to the outside world as the negative of everything a woman is supposed to be.
Likewise, in this production Judge Brock (Ari Veach) and Ejlert Loveborg (Joe Pietropaolo) were dressed similarly, which caused me to think of them as doubles and consider in which ways they were working together towards Hedda’s destruction, both striving for the power in their relationship with her. These two particular relationships remind me of the deep emotional violence of this work. Hedda ends up destroying Loveborg in favor of her own inflated view of how beauty in the world is supposed to work, and Brock destroying Hedda for his own amusement. Both of these destructions happen through manipulations with words and images of grandeur.
Nirvana seems to be heard in times of Hedda’s internalized violence brought on by the rigidity of the outside world. As the music plays, she dances in a sort of manic trance, scratching at her corset. Hedda and her double dance together against the decorum that silences them and the changes in their body neither can control.
Ibsen’s original was the largest element in this particular production, both textually and thematically. Overall, the other elemental explorations of Hedda felt a little tame. The music, as a symbol of the violence inherit in the systems of Hedda’s life, was played pretty quietly, feeling more like soundscaping rather than something for Hedda to work against. The use of the work of Sylvia Plath was a bit stronger, feeling like reverberations of Hedda’s definitive act in lives of women to come.
No matter what form productions of Hedda take, it’s not hard to remember why it’s been continuously taught and explored for the last century. The anger and darkness inherent in Ibsen’s work is just as relevant today and it was then, particularly in issues facing women. We can see the effects of systematic oppression he explored in every facet of contemporary life. (The upcoming election being no exception to this.) “People don’t do such things” is a phrase that will always have some weight in society, both because of this play, and because of the expectations of how we should live our lives. Mr. Weinstein’s production does well to remind us that people may not do such things but that doesn’t mean every part of our bodies don’t want to rebel against that archaic idea.