Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The award winning Off Broadway West Theatre Company is currently presenting Henrik Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER as directed by Richard Harder.

Great casting, starting with Cecilia Palmtag in the title role, jump starts this intricate and complex show which has been universally hailed as the beginning of modern theater.

Palmtag and Harder have artistically conspired to create a Hedda that is as emotionally glacial as a February fjord and as turbid as the winter waters of the North Atlantic.

But it is not merely iciness that defines Hedda, it is her alluring contradictions: the projected sense of being attainable while being unattainable: a disturbing beauty on the outside and a menacing, manipulating vixen on the inside.

While the show dates back to the 1890s, it has lost none of its ability to grab audiences with its dramatic talons and drag them into the pathological vortex created by Hedda.

Hedda is a powerful woman: seemingly much bigger than the life in the small western Norwegian town which she is seemingly exiled; she is certainly no match for its denizens.

But exiled from where and for what?

Has fate sequestered her in provincial Norway to deny her the opportunity to achieve her fullest potential or to appear on the cover of supermarket tabloids?

Has she been denied the chance to live life on a scale commensurate with her beauty, ambition and intelligence?

Could the Hedda Gabler of Ibsen, Palmtag and Harder have expanded herself to match the challenges of the larger modern world?

Given the chance, could Hedda have “been a contender” instead of a neurotic, self-absorbed, narcissistic, destructive, petty, petulant child raging against the dull civility and quiet tenor of Norwegian life?

Hedda exercises absolute control over all the other chess pieces on the board.

Adam Simpson brilliantly portrays Hedda’s husband: the absolutely obtuse George Tesman: he is like a snake handler, never consciously aware of the dangerous malignant force he has married into.

If you see the show with friends, be prepared afterwards for heated debate: undoubtedly Hedda will be put on trial: defended and vilified; cross examined via the lens of speculative psychology, bar stool sociology, feminism and a probing dissection of Hedda’s cerebral cortex.

This is theater as it was meant to be: provocative, intellectually challenging, emotionally charged, philosophically stimulating and psychologically captivating.

For tickets, call the box office at 415-407-3214 or visit www.offbroadwaywest.org.