Theatregoers' patience is rewarded richly in Elizabeth Meriwether's invigoratingly (and frustratingly) messy Heddatron.
Like a bright naughty child with too many ideas and too many toys to play with, Meriwether has concocted a triple-layered piece of theatre. First the play looks at the aftermath of a bored housewife's suicide attempt. Simultaneously it endeavors to explain why Henrik Ibsen chose to end his classic play Hedda Gabler with the heroine's suicide. Uniting these two plotlines is Meriwether's underlying question about what it means to become robotic in one's own life, gloriously illustrated by a conspiracy theory about the housewife's abduction by robots that force her to perform Hedda Gabler in a rain forest.
Scenic designer Cameron Anderson cleverly splits the stage into thirds, allowing Alex Timbers' masterful production of this fanciful play to unfold with ease. Two rooms in a dreary suburban house flank the stage. In the living room, discontented, angry Jane (Carolyn Baeumler) folds laundry and polishes her pistol. In the kitchen, her daughter (imbued with slightly too much cute precocity by Spenser Leigh) prepares for a sixth-grade book report on Ibsen's play, while her milquetoast father (Gibson Frazier channeling Robert Young) and volatile uncle (an overly forceful Sam Forman) prepare to rescue Jane. Meriwether's writing is least convincing here.
In the center of the stage, a soft-spoken, henpecked Ibsen (the droll Daniel Larlham) endures torrents of abuse from his condescendingly shrewish wife (rendered marvelously by Nina Hellman) and a surreal visit from August Strindberg (a garrulously crass Ryan Karels).
Late in the play, these three sections disappear in a coup de théâtre, making way for Jane's sidesplitting performance of Hedda Gabler with robot designers Meredith Finkelstein and Cindy Jeffers' scene-stealing creations. As Heddatron explodes into utter absurdity, theatregoers finally grasp the intent behind this ambitious, multitechnology work.
Presented by Les Freres Corbusier
at Here Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC.
Feb.16-25. Tue.-Sun., 8 p.m.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.
Casting by Stephanie Klapper.