First-rate 'Hedda Gabler,' with Susannah York in title role

Hedda Gabler, Tragic Drama by Henrik Ibsen. Adapted by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Michael Kahn. Starring Susannah York, Philip Bosco, Harris Yulin, Roxanne Hart, Paul Shenar.

The Roundabout Theater has mounted a first-rate revival of Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler." The Christopher Hampton adaptation, directed by Michael Kahn, stars British actress Susannah York in a performance distinguished by its blending of inner and fragile composure.

Seizing on the comic irony as well as the deepseated malaise of the Norwegian antiheroine, Miss York illuminates the complex drives of a woman who has resigned herself to marriage but not to wifehood. Proud, fastidious, totally self-centered, Hedda yearns to control the destiny of others. Suffocated by the world in which she has trapped herself, she seeks a revenge that leads to her own self-destruction.

As Miss York reveals her, Hedda is a creature constantly frustrated and perpetually enraged over her own frustrations. There is self-loathing in her boredom and her contempt for others. Whether in her calculated rudeness to the unoffending Aunt Julia (Katherine Squire) or her sadistic treatment of the naive Mrs. Elvsted (Roxanne Hart), Hedda displays the cold cruelty that shuns any natural human feeling. The bumbling attentions of that simple-hearted pedant George Tesman (Harris Yulin) merely aggravate the situation.

The title of the play creates the psychological premise for the portrayal. Hedda is the fiercely heritage-conscious daughter of the late General Gabler. Her leather heels click martially as she strides the tiled expanses of the elegant. Tesman drawing room. When she comes temporarily to rest on a black upholstered sofa, she positions herself as if astride a charging horse. And she handles those ominous pistols with the cool hostility of a dueler. Only the thought of scandal terrifies her.

The Tesman household, with its bourgeois domesticity and sentimental attachments, is as alien to Hedda Gabler as some dark continent. All the elements of the Roundabout production are attuned to Mr. Kahn's boldly theatrical concept and its visual expression, and the playing throughout is admirable. Mr. Yulin's Tesman is obtuse but genuinely open-hearted and honorable. Miss Hart never loses sight of Mrs. Elvsted's devotion and fundamental courage (the courage Hedda envies). Philip Bosco plays the blackmailing Judge Brack with the kind of humorous urbanity that allows the sinisterness to seep through, Mr. Shenar perceives that Lovborg's weakness is not merely his lapse from sobriety but his readiness to fall for Hedda's manipulations. Miss Squire is a gently doting Aunt Julia, and Barbara Lester confirms Ibsen's view that the role of Berta, the d evoted family servant, was not one to be scorned.

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