I was sitting next to a very pleasant couple at last night’s performance of Hedda Gabler. They were about my age and divide their time between Florida and Montreal. This was their third trip to the Shaw Festival. Chatting during the interval, she said they’d purchased tickets without knowing much about the play. She was somewhat appalled. She thought it was very well acted but didn’t think Hedda was a very nice person and wasn’t sure why she was the subject of a play or why we, collectively. were paying to see it. Paraphrasing and summarizing her review, she liked the production but did not like the play. I said I wished I could tell her Hedda would be more likable in the second half but I really couldn’t. I thought it best to go with the truth since we’d be sharing an armrest for another hour.
She was right about the production. The set and costumes were traditional and meticulous. It was superbly acted by every member of the cast.
My armrest partner was wrong about the play, however. This play is great in its use of what I think of as ‘negative space’. There is a lot going on between these people when no one is talking. Certainly there is a lot of ‘reading between the lines’ as well. The characters usually say less than they mean. Occasionally they say things they don’t mean at all. This is especially true of the title character. For me, however, the most compelling moments are those created by what is not said.
Hedda is not a woman with secrets so much as a woman with a compartmentalized life. Many of her confidences are known to others but it is a different subset of confidences with each person. Her relationships to other people are defined by what they don’t know. It is absolutely fascinating to watch and Ms. O’Connell in the title shows it to the audience with great subtlety but clear meaning.
If the rest of the theater this week rises to this level it will be a very good week indeed.