Much is forgiven when someone — or something — is cute. That goes for “Heddatron,” an amusing, if arch, deconstruction of “Hedda Gabler” by the avant-garde company known as Les Freres Corbusier. Five of the cutest robots that ever rolled off an engineering ramp interact smartly with human actors in this cheeky sendup of Ibsen and the precepts of the well-made play. Animated by radio control to speak, move and blink their lighted parts, these sophisticated ‘bots kidnap Hedda and make a shambles of the text. Who knows, with enhanced software, they might even take over the world — or at least impose some order on the makeshift parts of this piece.
Scribe Elizabeth Meriwether (“Nicky Goes Goth”) and helmer Alex Timbers, who directs all work done by Les Freres Corbusier, artfully communicate the fun they had in deconstructing Ibsen’s seminal 1890 drama and applying their modern sensibility to it. Working on a garishly lighted (by Tyler Micoleau) stage that designer Cameron Anderson has carved up into domestic settings of surreal contempo ugliness, creatives assign principal roles, plot elements and Ibsen’s own backstory to modern-day characters (human and humanoid) for zany enactment and comment.
In one inspired piece of invention, a 10-year-old girl called Nugget (played in hilarious deadpan by Spenser Leigh) delivers a bluntly literal school paper on the play and its dramatist, while actors in 19th-century dress attempt to enact the scenes she describes without breaking up. As Nugget imagines the creative process behind “Hedda,” Ibsen (Daniel Larlham, in orange mutton chops) was a sexually repressed worm who was henpecked by his shrewish wife (Nina Hellman), aroused by his sluttish maid (Julie Lake) and taunted by his rival, Strindberg (Ryan Karels).
“Don’t be glum,” Strindberg advises him in Karels’ deliciously droll reading of the super-sexed-up character Nugget imagines him to be. “You have a bad marriage and you’ve spent years inflicting it on everyone else — just cheat on your wife.”
Even without the knowing actors illustrating Nugget’s views of 19th-century life and letters, her wise-child comments on academic theory are priceless. (“Theater history is made up of people trying to make theater in different ways than the other ways of making theater. Lame.”)
Aside from incorporating androids into the action, some of Meriwether’s other attempts to update Hedda’s story for theatrically savvy auds are surprisingly uninspired.
Things look promising when Jane, a pregnant but dissatisfied hausfrau from Ypsilanti, Mich. (played with amusing ennui by Carolyn Baeumler), is kidnapped by robots and spirited away to a hideout in the rain forest, where she is forced to read and enact “Hedda Gabler” ad nauseam. But once those saucy androids standing in for Tessman, Lovborg, Judge Brack, Aunt Julie and a housemaid have exhausted all the eyeball attention, they neglect to include Jane/Hedda in their interactive games. So she’s pregnant and unfulfilled and bored. As Nugget might say: Lame.
Meanwhile, back in Jane’s kitchen, her bird brained husband Rick (Gibson Frazier) and his loudmouthed redneck brother Cubby (Sam Forman) carry on a relentlessly dull media campaign (illustrated on TV screens all over the room) to drum up some interest in Jane’s fate. But this is old-hat material, played out nightly on TV news stations, and neither Meriwether nor Timbers comes up with anything remotely inventive to justify the dead stage time — or, more critically, to put back together the toys they have pulled apart with such playful abandon.
Where are the robots when you need them?