Lethal instincts, lethal acts in 'Hedda Gabler'

Martha, the aggression-prone wife in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," comes to admit that she's "discontent." Compared with Hedda Gabler, Martha is Mary Poppins.

Hedda, like Martha, is the unfulfilled daughter of a local icon, trapped in an ill-conceived marriage to an academic named George - this one is Tessman. But in Henrik Ibsen's revolutionary late 19th-century drama, this "heroine" converts lethal instincts into lethal acts. In the current revival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, a compelling Cate Blanchett (l.), aided by the brilliant work of director Robyn Nevins and set designer Fiona Crombie, bristles like the caged animal she has become. In an age when gender roles were as confining as women's garments, there was no active vocabulary to describe, and no psychological means to reverse, Hedda's desperation once she foresees a life of boredom.

Blanchett employs what would be available to women - well-crafted insults disguised as coquettishness, impulsive behavior left over from adolescent indulgence, and a perverted definition of "beauty" that corrodes all she touches. Ibsen titled the play with Hedda's maiden name - symbolizing her true identity. And in this crystalline production the ending is as inevitable and comprehensible as what happens when someone pulls the trigger on one of General Gabler's pistols.

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