The Playgoer: REVIEW: Heddatron

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Friday, February 24, 2006

REVIEW: Heddatron

by Elizabeth Meriwether
directed by Alex Timbers, for Les Freres Corbusier

Those poor Ibsen men these days. First Lee Breuer literally dwarfs them under an amazon Nora (the celebrated Mabou Mines "midget Doll's House" a couple of seasons ago). Now Les Freres Corbusier have cast all the supporting characters in Hedda Gabler with clunky 50's sci-fi robots. What's going on in contemporary Ibsen performance? True, star actresses for years have hijacked these plays as diva vehicles and stolen the show away from their supposedly mighty male onstage oppressors. But are we so uninterested in the ensemble nature of these plays, the battle between worthy and equal opponents, that we need to keep diminishing or dehumanizing their presence?

To be fair, I should clarify what Heddatron is not. It is not a high-concept production of Hedda Gabler. Unfortunately, it is not much of an interpretation or gloss of it either, which one might hope for given the obsession on display with this classic and its author. Elizabeth Meriwether's script offers us a modern day counterpart to Hedda, Jane, a much more average American housewife (with none of Hedda's dynamism) but apparently suffers analogous angst. (Her husband is only mildly nerdy and her daughter very charming. What's the problem?) Meriwether offers her no active way out, like the desperate measures Hedda seeks. Instead she is passively carted off. And that's where the robots come in. It's a genuinely hilarious scene (after much otherwise strained humor) with their monotonous mecha voices droning desperate come-on lines to seduce her. Then, seeing Jane is absorbed in reading Ibsen (for inspiration?), they whisk her off to... a Central American rainforest, of course, where they "force her to perform...Hedda Gabler!" As torture? As courtship? And why the rainforest, again?

Of course, one catches on at some point with Les Freres one is not supposed to ask why and question their wacky surrealism. Among the other threads of the play I can barely begin to explain: video cut-aways to furtive interviews with a scientist exposing the government's secret Robot conspiracy (the creatures we see are presumably the result of the experiment gone awry?); Jane's husband's "guns 'n' ammo" brother who hires yet another videographer to interview him all the time (any excuse for multi-media display for Les Freres) and who then goes all Rambo to save Jane from the bots; and then there's Ibsen himself, back in 1890, fighting with his shrewish wife, hitting on the maid, and duking it out with badboy Strindberg. Just describing all this leaves me little room for proper evaluation. In typical grab-all downtown "devised theatre" style, it's a big messy stew. ( I feel like we should bring back the term "kitchen sink" drama--only to refer to a writer throwing in everything but said appliance.) If you love undergraduate-level historical name-dropping, the Ibsen stuff is all in good fun. But I was disappointed the insights never rose above the obvious or sophomoric. Although Ryan Karels' Strindberg-in-heat is an inspired caricature of bohemian testosterone.

Except for a surprisingly "nice" family-values resolution (as if we're going to care at the end about any of the characters' contrived troubles) the tone throughout is too hip to want to be taken intellectually seriously, of course. And yet so silly you really cannot stop asking the "whys"--as in, why am I watching? When the mini-coup de theatre comes--the robot Hedda--it is a sight to behold (see above). And some laughs are gotten from the (mis)application of Ibsen's dialogue to the accidents and particulars of the scene out of context. And, hey, robots in funny hats. Need I say more. But the scene lasts all of ten minutes. Probably this was the moment the entire play was built around. Too bad Meriwether and director Timbers could not trust their vision to expand it with a longer attention span, instead of getting distracted by their own eclecticism.

Epilogue: I'm looking forward to writing a lot more about Ibsen in the coming weeks, with Cate Blanchett's Hedda and an Off-Off staging of Bergman's "Nora" adaptation. We'll see how (and if) these disparate play off each other....Henrik is back, baby!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course these j*rks have to give us their perverse Ibsen. The real thing would make them question their lives too strongly.