THEATER | Genevieve Bennett’s “Hedda Gabler” takes a walk on the Wilde side


A girl I used to baby-sit for started biting like a piranha at age one, at age two deliberately locked her mother out of the house, and by age three had learned that if someone was trying to take her someplace that she didn’t want to go (like, say, preschool), all she had to do was remove her clothes and refuse to put them back on. Her mom used to shake her head and say, “She’s a pistol!” I thought of that phrase when watching Annie Enneking’s portrayal of Hedda Gabler: Hedda, too, is a pistol, and—unlike, fortunately for all of us, my young charge—Hedda also has access to an actual pistol.

In director Genevieve Bennett’s production, at the Southern Theater through Sunday, Enneking leads a cast who positively glory in Ibsen’s meaty dialogue, playing their roles thoughtfully but broadly. Rather than a drama, this Hedda is a melodrama; the Friday night audience seemed almost ready to boo and hiss when things got wicked. The first act is filled with sardonic humor, Leif Jurgensen (playing Judge Brack) prancing about as the Algernon to the Earn-esque Paul de Cordova (in the role of George Tesman). The tragic second act is played in bloody Technicolor, as the characters become progressively horrified at their unpleasant circumstances. The only real miscasting is that of the late composer Samuel Barber, whose moody piano music should have been replaced by a sizzling orchestral score.

hedda gabler, presented through february 14 at the southern theater. for tickets ($20) and information, see

Hedda Gabler, one of the towering classics of the stage, has the newly-married title character (to answer the question every Gabler hears about once a month: no relation) trying very unsuccessfully to resign herself to a life of wedded boredom. Her husband Tesman is a scholar who buries himself in his work both because he enjoys it and because he wants to land an academic position that will allow him to support the lavish lifestyle his new bride is demanding as her due for being locked in a loveless union. At the end of the play’s first act the romantic, rumpled Lovborg (a convincingly tortured John Catron) shows up as Tesman’s rival for the position—and for Hedda.

Enneking, in her early 40s, is over a decade older than her character, a discrepancy that’s noticeable particularly in the scenes she shares with Jennifer J. Phillips as her schoolmate Thea. The age difference is not distracting, but it does underline the distinction between the cynical Hedda and the idealists who surround her. Enneking storms into her blandly bourgeois home (a wall-less room effectively built on the wide Southern stage by Amber WR Miller) like the antithesis of Mary Poppins; she’s so visibly frustrated by her new confines that she seems about ready to rip out the throats of her husband and his aunt (Melissa Hart). It’s clear what attracts Hedda to the brilliant, alcoholic Lovborg: she wants a man with demons, someone who can understand her struggles with her own.

It’s part of Ibsen’s genius that his masterpiece is open to a wide range of different interpretations, and if you’re familiar enough with the play to have formed your own view about it, that view may not jive with Bennett’s crackling take. This is a high-contrast Hedda, and like turning up the contrast on an image, Bennett’s approach sharpens some details while blurring others. Whatever Ibsen would have thought of this production, it makes for a fantastically entertaining evening.