Though her résumé boasts about a dozen Broadway and Off Broadway credits over two decades, Mary-Louise Parker isn’t exactly known for period pieces; her starring role in a 1996 revival of the ’50s drama Bus Stop is about as far back as she’s gone. Yet she’s got enough pull — particularly thanks to her turn as a pot-selling suburban mom on Showtime’s Weeds — that if she wants to go all 19th century to play Ibsen’s pistol-packing, pyromaniac heroine Hedda Gabler, no one’s going to argue. They’re going to lace up a corset, get her a loaded gun, and light a match.
The show opens with Parker splayed out on a sofa like Ophelia in a pre-Raphaelite painting; PJ Harvey’s static-filled score, beautifully effective, lurks ominously. Then Ian Rickson’s production begins to unravel. Rickson — who staged such a sublime Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas and Sundance darling Carey Mulligan last fall — has assembled a cast that’s mismatched at best, misguided at worst. As Hedda’s well-intentioned but whipped writer husband, the always reliable Michael Cerveris turns in a very classical Tesman…which is completely at odds with Parker’s more contemporary approach to the material. Paul Sparks adopts a mysterious Norwegian (or is it Southern?) accent as bad-boy author Ejlert Lovborg. And why are they all constantly moving around the furniture? Isn’t that what maids are for? Or stagehands?
No one is helped by Christopher Shinn’s new adaptation, an exercise in obviousness that strips the text of every bit of poetry. Characterizing a wound as “below the stomach” or “stomach…more or less” or “lower parts” is enough; must lascivious Judge Brack (Peter Stormare) use the phrase in the groin? Gone are Hedda’s gorgeous, symbolically Dionysian descriptions of Lovborg “with vine leaves in his hair.” A climactic mention of Hedda being “so frightened” of scandal fails to resonate — because her first admission of said fear has been excised. It’s as if Shinn didn’t trust his Hedda to unearth Ibsen’s irony, so he added punchlines and quips — anything to make use of Parker’s gift for deadpanning.
Ultimately, Parker is miscast; she lacks the icy sex appeal of, say, Cate Blanchett (who played Hedda in a 2006 Brooklyn Academy of Music production) or the command of Kate Burton (in 2001, before she mothered Meredith Grey, opposite a pre-Lost Michael Emerson). Had she been working with a stronger ensemble and a better script — say, Jon Robin Baitz’s very fine adaptation — this Hedda may not have been such a flame-out. (Tickets: heddaonbroadway.com or 212-719-1300) D