I have seen "Hedda Gabler" many times onstage and on film. As fine as several of the other actresses have been, no one has come close in my opinion to conveying the desperation that Hedda endures. Without a trace of mannerism or facile Victorian posing, Fiona Shaw shows us a woman not only of fury and ennui, but of thwarted tenderness and self-lacerating remorse. Her wincing regret over her own snide comments re someone's hat is painful to witness, and the way she sometimes stands with her arms folded behind her back, as if barely restraining herself from randomly striking someone, anyone, is a gesture that says as much about her as any of her dialogue. She and her brilliant director, Deborah Warner, rescue Hedda from the "harpy" archetype that less diligent hands have unjustly fashioned for her over the decades. (Though controversial to Ibsen purists at the time, the silent prologue Ms. Warner created for this production was as effective as any great overture ever created for the ear.) The supporting cast, which includes Stephen Rea, Donal McCann, Brid Brennan, and Nicholas Woodeson, is also first rate.
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