Monday, October 06, 2008

Hedda's further adventures

Jeff Whitty wrote *Avenue Q,* the musical with the foul-mouthed puppets.
He's an Oregon native who actually once won a district spelling bee (Coos Bay, 1983).
And he has written "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" -- receiving only its second production anywhere at OSF now. (It premiered at South Coast Rep; the design team and the director and a couple of the actors re-appear here.)
It ought to receive many more productions, because it's hilarious and thoughtful -- the kind of comedy that has you laughing at things and then squirming in your seat because you're not sure if you should be laughing at such things. And isn't Whitty perhaps making fun of people ... just like me?
It's about Hedda and Tesman and Lovberg, trapped between performances the play in a world of fictional characters: Medea drops by,
Mammy from *Gone With the Wind* is the Tesmans' servant. You might think no two women could be further apart. But just as Hedda has a hard time imagining being anything other than depressed and suicidal, Mammy has a hard time imagining anything other than being a slave. And the whole thing, hilarious and funny and fast, gets us to asking: Can ANY of us change? Or are we all stuck with our fates? Add in feminism and race (a second black woman who's feeling empowered) and sexuality (two very funny stereotyped gay men from the late '60s, Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen, all swishy and drunk, wise-cracking and self-hating) and you've got the makings of a thinking person's comedy (lavishly produced here, but could be not quite so camped up -- and a cast of eight, lots of costumes, a couple of set pieces but affordable, and Bobo was thinking, in a few years, this is the kind of show that could be done in the Civic's downstairs.
Bobo *loved* this show. You need a couple of black women who can sing and dance, and a lot of adept comedians, and a lot of costumes (cameo appearances by the Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, "a spunky housewife with three adorable kids" from a TV sit com, and a host of others. But it's all great and thought-provoking fun. The whole thing starts with ornate golden proscenium, red velvet curtains, an enormous portrait of Ibsen with all his side-whiskers. And then, during the shut-off-your-cell-phones curtain speech, you realize that ol' Henrik's lips are moving. A cheap visual trick, but very funny.

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