Reviewed by Katie Buenneke
Through November 12
Sometimes the best way to watch a movie or TV show is to kick back with a glass of wine and some friends and yell at the TV whenever the characters do something you don’t agree with. Resolving Hedda, the new play now at the Victory Theatre in Burbank, offers a similar experience — except the titular character in Hedda Gabler is your drunk friend, railing against all her own bad decisions.
It’s meta, to be sure — the characters actually reference the fourth wall — but it’s fun. Kimberly Alexander is having a ball in the title role, with plenty of knowing winks to the audience. Hedda opens the play by explaining how sick she is of dying — it’s something she’s done in every performance for over a century. She’s determined to give the play a different ending, and rails against Henrik Ibsen and his intentions for her.
This sets up a Westworld-like inner conflict: she’s trying to act in her own best interests, but she’s living in Ibsen’s world. No matter what she does, it seems, she winds up in the same scripted predicaments with her former lover Eilert (Chad Coe), her husband George (Ben Atkinson), and the nefarious Judge Brack (Tom Ormeny). This can sometimes prove confusing to the audience, since there’s not enough distinction between when this Hedda is acting of her own free will, and when Ibsen is pulling her strings.
To playwright Jon Klein’s credit, it’s pretty easy to follow Resolving Hedda even if you’re not too familiar with Ibsen’s original. Hedda points out upcoming major plot points, so everyone can follow along. In this respect, the play is more approachable for general audiences than Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which sends up Chekhov’s works.
Unfortunately, under Maria Gobetti’s direction, the performances are all over the place. Many performers feel shtick-y, though Coe’s Eilert does good work in his limited stage time. Alexander is occasionally winning, especially in monologues, but like most of the cast, she’s often over-the-top, which is especially jarring in a space as small as the Victory.
As such, the writing becomes the true star of the show. The comedy is sharp, with contemporary references that (mostly) don’t feel like they’re trying too hard. Klein handles comedy and commentary best, which gives the play’s first 15 minutes an exhilarating feel. But as the show tries to address more of the original plot, it gets bogged down, and the second half of the first act moves slowly.
Perhaps unintentionally, Resolving Hedda also brings up some interesting questions of optics. Hedda decries the patriarchy, as embodied by Ibsen, in his original, yet her every move in this play is determined by another man, Klein. Luckily, Klein seems to be a bit more progressive than his Norwegian predecessor.
The Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through November 12. thevictorytheatrecenter.org. Running time: two hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.