“Heddatron” – Stray Cat Theatre
This review aired on KBAQ May 21, 2012
STAGE ROBOTS DON’T IMPRESS IN STRAY CAT’S “HEDDATRON”
Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
There’s a lot of on-stage commotion at Stray Cat Theatre’s “Heddatron” as five robots tool around the stage as part of the action in Elizabeth Meriwether’s play. Unfortunately, the stage robots – and they work amazingly well – take audience attention away from the play. It’s a theatrical gimmick that doesn’t intensify the action and creates unnecessary distractions.
“Heddatron” deals with a pregnant housewife abducted after much rambling chatter by the robots. She’s taken to a remote rainforest where her captors ask her to perform Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” while playwright August Strindberg taunts the henpecked Ibsen as he crafts his new play. The housewife’s confused family in Michigan tries to find her without success. It’s really bizarre, a theatrical journey you’ve never taken and one unlikely to unfold on stage again. The play parallels Ibsen’s complex Hedda with the confused leading character, Jane Gordon, as she tries to live through Hedda. The action is complicated by Ibsen, his domineering wife, and Strindberg but the play’s creation doesn’t add anything to Jane or her situation.
Meriwether’s play isn’t particularly well written as it rambles while keeping Hedda’s details front and center. The robots seem like a distraction that wasn’t well planned in the play’s purpose. The play is dry and limpid were it not for the robots that confuse but provide visual diversity.
The Stray Cat production isn’t one of the group’s best efforts although Johanna Carlisle’s portrait of Jane is strong. Carlisle, one of the Valley’s best performers, always delivers a completely crafted character. Jane’s daughter, Nugget, serves as the play’s narrator and Thea Eigo’s polished performance belies her status as a fifth grader. Jane’s husband, Rick, is the milk toast Todd Michael Isaac, while his brother, Cubby, is all bluster and vibrato in Louis Farber’s big and pushy performance. Sam Wilkes’ Ibsen is almost pushed to the side, while Ian Christensen’s Strindberg is appropriately meddlesome. The five robot operators sit with the audience as they manipulate the stage antics of the Tim Gerrits designed robots that were executed by HeatSync Labs.
Ron May’s staging doesn’t focus audience attention on the play as interest wanders back and forth between the robots and the play’s message.
“Heddatron” is certainly a different theatrical journey but the visually interesting robots don’t add a lot to the play, its message, the confused leading character, or her parallels with the 1890 Hedda Gabler. It continues through June 9 at the Tempe Performing Arts Center. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-634-6435 or order tickets online at www.straycattheatre.org.