In A Nutshell
Henrik Ibsen is kind of a big deal. After William Shakespeare, he’s the most widely produced dramatist in history. (Wow, right?) A Norwegian playwright writing in the last half of the 19th century, Ibsen is known as "the father of modern drama." Because he wrote in a then new realist style – covering everyday topics and everyday people – he set the stage for many realist writers to come, among them the very famous Anton Chekhov. Ibsen proved that with very realistic settings, characters, and scenarios, you could still comment on big abstract ideas. He was also a bit scandalous, always raising eyebrows with his unflattering portrayals of Victorian values.
Translator Rolf Fjelde comments that Ibsen’s career can be divided into two halves, and that the second reflects a more uniform style and substance that suited the playwright best. This second half began with A Doll House – the play that made Ibsen famous (commercially and critically) in 1879. Eleven years later, in 1890, came Hedda Gabler.
Hedda tells the story of the original desperate housewife – and Eva Longoria Parker has got nothing on this lady. Hedda, once the best catch in town, is a woman restricted by Victorian values and trapped in a loveless marriage with a boring, boring man. Her only solace is manipulating others, which she does for about, oh, 94% of the play. It could have been that Norway wasn’t ready for a leading woman of the femme fatale variety, because Hedda initially received negative reviews in the early 1890s. But she won the critics over – gradually – in the course of a decade; reviews steadily improved until a 1902 Broadway production set it firmly in the dramatic canon. To this day, Hedda is one of the most talked about fictional women in all of drama. Known as "the female Hamlet," she is also one of the most difficult roles for an actress to play. Even modern feminism can’t get a grip on this woman, whose motivations seem to defy categorization or...