La-dees and gentlemen, in this corner: the heavyweight champion of Henrik Ibsen's socially oppressed heroines, pistol-packin' Hedda Gabler. And in this corner: an oppressed housewife forced to play Hedda Gabler in a production starring the robots who kidnapped her – Jane, the protagonist of Elizabeth Meriwether's contemporary comedy Heddatron. For three weeks, they will be facing off on Austin's theatre calendar in productions by the Palindrome Theatre company and Salvage Vanguard Theater, respectively. Only don't expect these troupes to treat their shows as dueling Heddas; fact is, the creators are supportive of each other and have been since they learned their productions would be running at the same time. Palindrome Artistic Director Nigel O'Hearn sent early drafts of his adaptation of Ibsen's script to Dustin Wills, the Paper Chairs artistic director who's staging Heddatron for SVT, and O'Hearn and his Hedda cast made it out to see Heddatron on the show's opening weekend. The two men were also happy to sit together and discuss what their Heddas have and don't have in common.
Dustin Wills: I really don't think Heddatron has much at all to do with Hedda Gabler other than it's in the title, and we get a few lines of it in the play, and it deals with the same overall theme.
Nigel O'Hearn: That feeling of social oppression.
Austin Chronicle: Is that theme what led you both to decide to do these plays?
Wills: I've always had a fascination with tragic females, so Hedda Gabler was going to get on the list eventually. I think that theme is always interesting to people. It's just a universal theme.
O'Hearn: Everybody asks: If she's so unhappy, why doesn't Hedda Gabler just leave? Why does she have to kill herself? And I don't think the answer is as simple as [saying] Hedda – or Jane – is unhappy. They love who and what they are, but at the same time they're depressed by it and want to escape it. But if they were to escape it, they would be more unhappy than they were where they are now.
Wills: We can look at it as objective outsiders and say, "All you need to do is smile," or "Leave your husband and go travel." We have all the solutions. But when a person's trapped in her own mind, I don't know. Heddatron is a relatively joyous, happy, fun time at the theatre, don't get me wrong, but at the end there is that part of me that is like, this woman cannot escape herself. A robot can be turned off, and you're done, but what does it mean to be human if you feel everything around you is prescribed and the function of you as a human is only to serve somebody else?
Heddatron runs through March 5, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 6pm, at Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd.. For more information, call 474-7886 or visit www.salvagevanguard.org.
Hedda Gabler runs Feb. 18-March 13, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5pm, at the Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale. For more information, call 939-6829 or visit www.palindrometheatre.com.
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