MTV Cribs was such a popular show because it brought the general public into the homes of rock stars and celebrities. We could glimpse into worlds that weren’t ours and probably never would be. Sometimes though, an episode portrayed relatable experiences, like when we went inside Redman’s crib and found his cousin living on his couch, a bunch of $1 bills jammed into a shoebox and a broken antenna on his television. There were other episodes, like the one featuring Mariah Carey’s luxury NYC penthouse, filled with hot tubs, thousands of designer shoes and heaps of expensive jewelry, that were shocking in their excess. Both the Redman and Mariah Carey episodes were fun because they gave the audience the sense that they were really peering into someone else’s lives; the crib fit the person.
In Mark O’Rowe’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler the audience finds itself inside an episode of MTV Cribs but the new house that Jorge and Hedda Tesman share is sterile. It is soulless, save for an old piano, like the rented mansion in Miami that a one hit wonder from one of the declining seasons of Cribs would have shown us. The apartment is attractive but it looks like the lobby of a fancy high-rise, where people pass through but no one lingers.
When we first meet Jorge, played by Avery Clark, and Hedda, played by Julia Coffey, their dialogue is perfectly, painfully numbing. It is so unsettling and awkward yet it is not foreign and they quickly draw the audience into their bland, petty, minuscule world.
Hedda is attached to her father the general. His picture is the only one is their home. Jorge is closest to his aunt Julle, played by Kimberly Schraf. He is “her only joy in the world.” Hedda and Jorge, the newlyweds, however, couldn’t be farther apart.
Passion pops into their lives when Thea Elvsted, played by Kimiye Corwin, comes around looking for any clues as to the whereabouts of her muse and the father of her “child,” Ejlert Lovborg, played by Shane Kenyon. Thea has fearlessly abandoned her ball and chain to find love but comes up against a wall of mediocrity in Hedda for which her passion is no match. Hedda taunts Thea now as an adult the way she in high school when she would pull her hair and threaten to set it on fire. Although Hedda claims that she would never have done something so cruel, Thea did not know this and nothing about Hedda’s behavior said that she wouldn’t. Hedda did not and does not want Thea to be in her triangle!
Jorge thinks that he has a rival of sorts in Ejlert, a fellow academic with a checkered past who has reformed his ways and has just published a book that is met with acclaim. Jorge worries that Ejlert will now be offered the position at the university that he desires. While artifacts occupy Jorge, the truth is the light that attracts Ejlert, who ultimately concedes the position to Jorge, saying, “You can have the security, I’ll take the acclaim.” Jorge does not interpret this as a put down but dances a jig in thanksgiving.
Although it would seem that an audience would want more Ejlert and less Jorge, the two are not rivals and Jorge, when he is around good and interesting people and ideas, tends to take on their characteristics but the same is true for the opposite. Hedda Gabler is not a reality show; it is real. The lifeblood of society left a trail as the audience walked out of the Studio Theatre and my only hope is that each of us had someone to discuss the themes of self-absorption, ennui, and emotional detachment with instead of being absorbed into Hedda’s world.