If the little Vaudeville is not fuller for the next four afternoons than it was yesterday the public is a fool. No doubt the few were also the fit. But the play was more than an artistic success. It had almost the elements of a popular one. It was a complete contrast to the last Ibsen experiment in the same walls. «Rosmersholm» was dismal to begin with, and it dragged abominably on the actors hands. «Hedda Gabler,» though tragic enough in all conscience, is brilliant and powerful throughout; it fitted the caste like a glove, and it never hung for a moment. There is no question that the play caught hold of the audience. Some who went to curse, not inaudibly blessed; and to many who went willing to bless it was a dramatic revelation. Critics who feel that it is expected of them may pretend that they were shocked or that they were bored. But they certainly followed the play for three good hours with every outward sign of lively interest.
AN IBSEN SUCCESS. «HEDDA GABLER» AT THE VAUDEVILLE.
No, «Hedda Gabler» is not gloomier than «Vildanden,» in spite of its two suicides, its triumph of evil strength over good weakness, and its subtle dissection of a morbid modern type. Nor is it merely saved by the brilliant dialogue with which it sparkles in passage after passage. It conquers by the consummate art with which its plot is developed. It draws only on two successive days in the history of its characters. In that space it introduces them, exhibits them, develops them through their interaction, and hurries them to their goal. If elsewhere Ibsen stops to preach, he does not here. It must be a very perversity of cleverness which will torture a moral from this play, good or bad. If elsewhere Ibsen condescends to mystify, strews puzzles by the way as in «Rosmersholm,» or ends with a note of interrogation as in «A Dolls House,» he is kinder to his audience here. «Why did she give him the pistol?» was a question current in the foyer yesterday. That is to overlook the complex motives of Hedda. To begin with, she suffers from that hopeless complication of maladies anæmia of the affections, with hypertrophy of the æsthetics. In plainer English, call her an egoist-exquisite, ready to sell her soul and damn any one elses for a little poetry. Thats simple enough. But she has also that capricious intensity which makes jealousy a stronger passion than love. Thats not very obscure. And in these two broad clear lights everything is explained. Ennui, not passion, makes her play with Judge Brack. Passion, of jealousy not of love, either for her lover or (absurder still) her husband, makes her wreck Lovborg. The rest is plain sailing. If you are beginning to wonder what all this means why, go and see for yourself. The acting of Miss Marion Lea and Miss Elizabeth Robins is worth the trouble even without the play. Miss Lea was justifiably nervous, but her only fault was that she sat down to write a little too composedly after Lovborgs death. Miss Robins is brilliant, no less; she is all versatility, expressiveness, and distinction. She even carries off that risky exit at the end of the first act, and she could hardly be better in the dazzling by-play with Brack, with Lovborg, and in the struggle for Lovborgs soul between the serpentine Hedda and the weak but winning Mrs. Elvsted. The two actresses are perfect foils. Mr. Charles Sugden never did better than as the Mephistophelian judge; and of the others (Miss Henrietta Cowen, Mr. Scott Buist, Mr. Arthur Elwood) not a single one did badly.