The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabbler at Diversionary
Henrik Ibsen liked to close his plays with a bang: the slamming door in Doll's House; a pistol shot in Hedda Gabler. Nora in Doll's goes off to find herself. But what about suicidal Hedda? According to Jeff Whitty's screwball, puddle-deep, sometimes funny Further Adventures, Hedda's stuck in a literary limbo, where fictional characters must remain until forgotten.
And remain as they were. And repeat their past. "You must believe that you will make your peace someday," one says, "though you never will."
So Medea must re-murder her children. Or ascend to Mt. Olympus? Which? (here and elsewhere, the device breaks down; the playwright prefers the superficial to a clean and sturdy case).
Hedda's been in the Cul-de-Sac for Tragic Women over a century. She's waited on my Mammy, the stereotyped slave-servant from Gone With the Wind ("dreamed up by a white lady"). Hedda wants to change her fate so people will remember as a happy person.
But according to the play - and to Denis de Rougement, who said "happy love has no history" - she'd be soon forgotten.
Hedda decides to convince Ibsen to change the ending. To do that, she must take the dark and rocky path to the Furnace of Creativity (or some such) and have it out with Ibsen.
She and Mammy run into "forgettable" people, some of whom die before our eyes, and immortals: cursed Cassandra of Troy, Medea, two pre-Stonewall, self-loathing gay men (a la Boys in the Band), Tosca (after leaping to her death), even different versions of Jesus.
Somehow in the cauldron of creativity things change, or don't, or shouldn't: stereotypes get justified, and the play ends by wanting to provoke thought. But the more you think about it, the flimsier it becomes.
Diversionary Theatre and director Matt McGrath are probably giving the script its best shot. Cast Jacque Wilke as Hedda, Yolanda Franklin at Mammy, and Shana Wride in several roles - three of San Diego's most versatile actors - and they'll score points even when the play's wide of the mark.
Add a capable supporting cast, wearing Shirley Pierson's excellent costumes and flashy, uncredited wigs, Michelle Caron's eerie lighting, and Matt Scott's mystical, minimalist set and the production gives a sense that there's more there than is there.
The play has funny lines. And the playwright's good at arch attitudes. But he cartoons his characters and makes jokes at their expense.
Now I'm as irreverent as the next person - maybe more so, I suspect - but Further Adventures plays fast and loose with agony. Cassandra, for example, really suffered (disbelieved, raped, enslaved, slaughtered and left with her eyelids unclosed, which condemned her to a brutal afterlife). Whitty's portrait belittles her suffering, and Medea's, and Tosca's so much its clear he'll do anything for a laugh.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, playing through April 28.
More like this:
- Ibsen's law — June 15, 2016
- Without Walls Festival: Seafoam Sleepwalk and Hedda-ing — Oct. 4, 2013
- Heddatron at Ion Theatre — March 18, 2012
- Ibsen and Acting — Jan. 31, 2012
- Learn to be Latina at Diversionary — Nov. 23, 2011