Henrik Ibsen: Ahead of his time. Father of modern drama. Often considered an early male feminist for confronting the constraints on women in the 19th century.
The title character of one of his plays has a bone to pick with him, though.
Hedda Gabler has had enough of being strong and uncompromising yet given just one means of independence at the end of her story: by killing herself. So she’s been bursting onto a Burbank stage during the pre-show phone/candy-wrapper announcement to try to wrest control of “Hedda Gabler” and chart a new course.
She’s winning audience after audience to her side in Jon Klein’s boisterous new comedy “Resolving Hedda” at the Victory Theatre, where she is ferociously embodied by Kimberly Alexander. At her shoulder is the equally tenacious Maria Gobetti, the Victory’s co-founder, who nimbly directs this production, as she has so many others in the theater’s 38-year history.
One of the pricklier characters in the dramatic canon, Hedda — introduced to the world in 1891 — has never had a problem speaking her mind, and that quality is only intensified here. She glares at the heavens, heaping scorn on the Norwegian master as she tries to think of ways to circumvent his precision-crafted plot, which piles indignities on her while blocking avenues of escape — “the perfect killing machine,” as she bitterly describes it.
Ibsen gives her plenty of qualities to help her along: fierce intelligence, bravery and tenacity. Other traits must be fought. “I’m bored and willful and perverse,” she says ruefully, “at least according to Wikipedia.”
Yes, Wikipedia. For all of her Victorian trappings (costume designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg buries her in yard after yard of ornately draped cloth), Hedda is very much a woman of 2017. She’s been keeping current these last 126 years and drops offhand references to Oprah’s Book Club and phone apps, as well as uttering the occasional curse word.
The other characters don’t know what to make of her as she restlessly paces her elegant drawing room (design by Evan Bartoletti). Her ineffectual academician of a husband, George (Ben Atkinson), is flustered even more than usual; still, he and the others keep following the paths that lead toward her usual fate while she tries to steer them elsewhere, all while she battles props — pistols, a sole-copy manuscript — that keep playing into the action exactly as Ibsen wrote them.
The comic tone spreads to the others, however.
Tom Ormeny, Gobetti’s husband and Victory co-leader, fixes an extra-mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he portrays randy Judge Brack, the gray-haired family friend who harasses Hedda every time George injudiciously leaves her alone with him. The section of the audience I was sitting in took to calling him the play’s Harvey Weinstein.
Chad Coe pushes Eilert Lövborg, Hedda’s former flame and George’s academic rival, to such preening excess that he flashes a shoulder at her, Marilyn Monroe-style, to try to remind her how sexy he is.
Klein, the author of such previous Victory hits as “T Bone N Weasel” and “Wishing Well,” delivers laughs at a steady pace. His plotting, however, could stand more rigor. Repeatedly, Hedda states a course of action only to abandon it or dismiss it with a shrug when the big moment arrives. One also might wish that the play carried more sociopolitical weight. Ibsen’s Hedda is a towering example of independent-mindedness; it would be a thrill to see her grab the 21st century by the lapels and deliver a rousing statement about equality.
Pure entertainment is its own reward, though, and “Resolving Hedda,” by its very existence, makes a larger statement. However much Hedda might abuse him, Ibsen deserves her — and our — admiration for writing so forcefully about issues that perpetually bedevil us. He has been especially prominent this year in Lucas Hnath’s Tony-winning riff, “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” and Casa 0101 Theater’s premiere this week of Josefina López’s rethinking of “An Enemy of the People” as “An Enemy of the Pueblo.”
It’s good to have him still at our side.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Victory Theatre, 3326 Victory Blvd., Burbank
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sundays; extended through Dec. 3
Tickets: $24 and $34
Info: (818) 841-5421, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes