"I can't refer to her as narcissistic" says Hope. "She is a strong, ambitious, expansive, with a wild personality bottled in a time and a place and a condition where she has no outlook or model for what to do with that. She tries so hard ..."

Hope says Hedda cannot deal with the house where she is living or the man she has married, and she doesn't know what to do."

Does she need therapy?

"Who doesn't?" says Tarver. "But so does the judge, the husband and her aunt."

Tarver keeps the production in the original 1890 time period "but it's not 100 percent realistic," which is suggested in Eugene Lee's deliberately unfinished set and the flamboyant poster for the play where the actress is sprawled backward over a grand piano.

Even so, it's a play "with no lace up the dresses. It's got a sharp silhouette, like the text. It doesn't get lost in the details. The boldness is a cross between high melodrama and a deep psychological drama," says Tarver. "I love that mix."

Tarver sees the play as about the nature of art and self expression, too, "which I think is about Hedda's desires and goals, to find some sort of authenticity in living, a way to truly express herself. So for me, on another level, it's about life's relationship to art which is a very complex, explosive and actually can be destructive. Ibsen in his life and time felt that as an artist as he battled with society — and he wasn't even a woman."

HEDDA GABLER begins previews Thursday, Aug. 30, and opens to the press on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 50 Church St., Hartford. The run continues through Sept. 23. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are on Sundays and select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $26.50, to $83.50, not including ticket fees. Preview tickets through Sept. 5 can be purchased for 25 percent off at www.hartfordstage.org using the online code Hedda25. Information: 860-527-5151 and www.hartfordstage.org.

Read Frank Rizzo's blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at http://www.courant.com/curtain.

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