The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler
Changing her story isn't easy for Ibsen's heroine, but it is funny
Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Oct. 7, 2011
The Further Adventures of Hedda GablerMary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress, 448-8484
Through Oct. 9
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.
She's back, and she's on a mission. But this time, Norway's nefarious, pistol-wielding antiheroine finds herself in the most unlikely company. What do you get when you cross Ibsen with Gone With the Wind and throw a host of pop culture cameos into the mix? Answer: The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler.
In this Mary Moody Northen Theatre production, Jill Blackwood delivers an unsurprisingly stunning performance as Hedda, whose infamous demise as one of drama's most tragic figures is doomed to recur again and again. With the help of husband George and their servant Mammy (see Gone With the Wind above), Hedda learns that she now exists in the world of "fictions" yet unforgotten, a place where all inhabitants are destined to re-enact ad infinitum the situations their authors have imagined for them. The only hope for change exists at the Furnace, the domicile of their authors. After a century of the same old "bang, I'm dead" routine, Hedda is finally ready to put down her pistol and embark on the quest to find Ibsen, in hopes of changing his mind about the ending to her tale.
Hedda is not alone on her journey, however; she is joined on the path by Mammy, played with fantastic wit by Jarrett King. Decades of social progress have intervened since Mammy took to the screen in 1939, and she sees herself as a historical shadow, obsolete within the social circles of the younger black fictions she frequently encounters. If she can reach the Furnace, she reasons, perhaps there she will find other mammies just like her. Meanwhile, George (portrayed smartly by David Stokey) follows on the heels of Hedda, hoping to bring his wife home. On their respective journeys, the three meet a cast of colorful characters from the lexicon of pop culture, each costumed beautifully by Austin Rausch (this production represents "his first professional design experience" and indicates the beginning of a brilliant career). The forest elements of set designer Leilah Stewart are likewise innovative and well executed.
The author behind this Hedda is Jeff Whitty, most popularly known for a book of the musical Avenue Q. If you're a fan of the puppet-toting musical for adults, you'll probably enjoy his take on fiction of the past century. Although the cast's professionals and students alike turn in laudable performances, I admit finding the play itself somewhat convoluted. Whitty purports a desire to drive home messages on race, sexuality, gender, and other relevant issues throughout the work, but his efforts to treat these themes with appropriate comedy are repeatedly derailed by a game of "Which movie/musical/sitcom will he spoof next?" When these topics do finally receive the focused attention that appears to be the play's objective, we're halfway into the second act, and the comedy somewhat fizzles. If more of a balance were struck between themes and their treatment throughout the course of the play, it might feel less like a parade of cultural icons and more a coherent piece of comedic theatre.
Besides a questionably interpreted musical sequence in the second act, director David Long's production moves along at a happily brisk clip. Make no mistake: Hedda's "further adventures" provide for many laugh-out-loud moments, but they may not be every theatregoer's cup of tea.