Sunday, August 02, 2015

Off the mantlepiece and into the furnace: "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" at St. Louis Shakespeare

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"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall," Anton Chekov once observed, "then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."

Taking as his point of departure the most famous gun in stage history—the one Hedda Gabler uses to commit suicide offstage at the end of the play that bears her name—playwright Jeff Whitty ("Avenue Q") spins out The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, currently being produced by St. Louis Shakespeare at The Ivory Theatre. Hedda wakes from her suicide to a literary and theatrical afterlife in which famous (and not-so-famous) fictional characters endlessly relive the tropes their creators designed for them.

Unwilling to simply repeat the same story over and over again, Hedda teams up with Mammy from "Gone With the Wind" and a pair of stereotypically gay characters from 1968 who could be (but aren't) from "Boys in the Band" or "Staircase" to change her story by going back to The Furnace, the source of all fictional creations. Along the way they encounter a laundry list of famous fictions, from Little Orphan Annie and Leatherface ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") to an entire grotto the various mythological and literary manifestations of Jesus (just pick the one you like).

It's a clever concept with plenty of laughs along the way, even if the pacing is slow at times and the entire enterprise runs out of steam a bit towards the end. The small cast plays a dizzying variety of characters, with especially fine work from Emily Baker as Hedda, Jeanitta Perkins as Mammy, Dave Cooperstein as George Tesman, and Maxwell Knocke and Carl Overly, Jr. as the '60s stereotypes.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler is well worth a visit to the remodeled Ivory Theatre in the Carondelet neighborhood. Performances continue through August 9th. For more information, visit the St. Louis Shakespeare web site.

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