Stray Cat Theatre's HEDDATRON a bewildering ride

Monday, May 21, 2012
Arizona Republic

You might say that "Heddatron" is one part 21st-century absurdism and one part gonzo literary criticism. Much of the latter is delivered by the aforementioned housewife's daughter, Nugget, who serves up background on Ibsen and his archrival, August Strindberg, in adorable kid-speak punctuated by the occasional fist pump. Pig-tailed fifth-grader Thea Eigo is so ridiculously cute in the role that you may be tempted to drive straight from the theater to the Humane Society to adopt a kitten.

A search for missing mom Jane (Johanna Carlisle) is being conducted by Nugget's feckless father (Todd Michael Isaac) and testosterone-addled uncle (Louis Farber, who can always be relied upon for over-the-top comic bellicosity). Meanwhile, on the second story of the set, Ibsen himself is in the midst of writing "Hedda Gabler," his dark psychological drama about an unhappy bride who ends up committing suicide. As played by Sam Wilkes, the great Norwegian playwright is prim to the point of prissy and mercilessly browbeaten by Mrs. Ibsen (Shelly R. Trujillo).

One of the great pleasures of this dizzyingly odd production, directed by Stray Cat founder Ron May, is the rivalry between Ibsen and Strindberg, played by Ian Christiansen as a lascivious bully with mad-scientist hair. Together, they represent the clash between id and superego, with a dose of Farrelly brothers gross-out humor.

But the main attraction in "Heddatron" is the robots. And when they finally appear, they definitely make an impression, even if they are essentially cutesy sculptures on remote-control wheels. First, alpha-male Hans and nerdy sidekick Billy appear in Jane's living room intent not on kidnapping so much as seduction. "That's my robot heart beating itself to death inside my rock hard torso-tron," Hans pleads in hilarious monotone. (The dialogue gets dirtier from there.)
Whisked to the Ecuadorian rainforest, Jane is, at last, forced to perform the lead in "Hedda Gabler," reading lines with Berta Bot,Brack Bot and Aunt Julie Bot. These are more abstract representations than the retro sci-fi look of Hans and Billy -- Berta, the maid, is basically a broom and dustpan on a box -- but they are employed to great comic effect as they wheel around, bumping into the furniture.

Still, if it's the journey and not the destination that counts, then "Heddatron" is quite the (acid) trip.