|Fabulous Monsters Performance
Company, the L.A. based ensemble celebrated for its gender-bending theatricality,
makes its long-awaited New York debut at La MaMa ETC with Speed-Hedda. Adapted
and directed by Robert Prior, Speed-Hedda is Ibsen's modern classic re-imagined
as an early 1960's cinema shocker, played at warp speed and set to a mambo beat.
Speed-Hedda is set in 1962
-- a year in which Camelot reigns supreme, the Yankees are invincible, and "the
Pill" is born. Our titular character is a towering blond obsessed with
the Bossa Nova and in the thrall of addiction to prescription pick-me-ups.
Hedda feels trapped by her bookworm spouse and the claustrophobia of life in
the suburbs. When an old flame comes to town, the pill popping Hedda is suddenly
catapulted towards her tragic destiny as she is torn between virtuousness and
The production incorporates
projected video sequences and choreography to evoke the fluidity and techniques
of film. It is a living movie in black and white, enacted by an award winning
all male ensemble.
Since its inception in 1994,
Fabulous Monsters has been praised as "one of the most original theatrical
phenomena Los Angeles has produced" by Back Stage West. The company is
a collective of artists from a variety of backgrounds united under Artistic
Director Robert Prior's collaborative leadership. The company has created a
uniquely vivid theatrical performance style using outrageous visuals, social
insight, gender-bending, ritual, music, and storytelling. Their production
of The Importance of Being Earnest played a sold out, critically acclaimed
run at the Bailiwick Arts Center in Chicago in 1998. Other past productions
include interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and Gilgamesh.
Review by Robert Kent
Speed-Hedda - Hedda
Gabler gets dolled up at La MaMa
It's difficult to
believe that Hedda Gabler is as bored as she claims to be. A few weeks
ago, she was headlining a critically acclaimed Broadway production. And,
now through February 3, she takes a shot at off-off-Broadway with the
hilarious Speed-Hedda at La MaMa ETC. The Henrik Ibsen heroine gets around,
but she hasn't seen this much action since 1890.
The latest Hedda to grace
New York arrives downtown courtesy of the seven-year-old Los Angeles
performance troupe Fabulous Monsters and director/author Robert Prior.
The all-male ensemble infuses the classic with fierce humor, 60s style
and gay sensibility.
Inspired by Hollywood,
Prior imaginatively stages his adaptation of 'Hedda Gabler' as a live-action,
black and white movie, circa 1962. Trapped in a colorless world before
women's liberation, Prior's Hedda survives her lackluster days by playing
mambo on the Hi-Fi and indulging in large quanities of booze and pills.
''There are no more monkeys in my barrel,'' squeals Hedda (Mark Brey)
upon discovering an empty bottle of prescription amphetamines (a.k.a.
speed). One phone call later, Doctor Brock (Chris Wells) lands on Hedda's
doorstep with a renewed prescription and a surefire remedy for the character's
In the capable hands
of Brey, Hedda has the sophistication of Jackie Kennedy, marksmanship
of Angie Dickinson's Sgt. ''Pepper'' Anderson, hysterics of Nelly O'Hara,
and dancing feet of Rita Moreno. Likewise, a talented ensemble supports
Brey. Each actor skillfully plays his role with a cocktail mix of camp
and melodrama. One of the evening's best performances belongs to Tim
Dunaway as Thea Elvsted, Hedda's former classmate and current rival for
the affections of Eilot Lovborg, a flamboyant writer (Jay Smith). Sporting
a blonde bouffant and outfits stolen from the 'Laugh-In' wardrobe closet,
Dunaway is delightful, an ideal Edina to Brey's Patsy.
an intermission, 'Speed-Hedda' runs approximately an hour and fifteen
minutes. Although abbreviated, the play is surprisingly faithful to Ibsen's
age-old script, retaining the characters' traditional Norwegian names,
snippets of original dialogue, and all the requisite plot twists: Newly
wed, Hedda resents her nebbish husband, George Tesman (Smith, in a dual
role), and his devotion to a career in academia. When Lovborg, an old-flame
and recovering alcoholic, comes to town to promote his new book (and
compete with George for a job), Hedda's long-repressed passions and jealousies
surface. Eventually, Hedda becomes entwined in a web of deceit, scandal,
blackmail and death.
As expected, Prior
takes liberties with the storyline and characters. In addition to portraying
Hedda as a drug addict, the author casts Brock and Lovborg as promiscuous
bisexuals. He also sets Lovborg's climactic death scene in Madame Danny's,
a notorious club known for its low-life clientele: female impersonators!
to other drag-theater troupes, such as T.W.E.E.D. ('Imitation of Imitation
of Life') or Theatre Couture ('Doll'), 'Speed-Hedda' humorously plays
with gay and female stereotypes. Much of the sleek production's wit is
of the double-entendre variety, with playful references to the male anatomy,
perverse sex acts and pop culture. It's a familiar trip, but it's still
entertaining. Most importantly, 'Speed-Hedda' is a cure for boredom,
one that beats taking amphetamines or playing with pistols.
Jan 23, 2002
Reviewed By: Dan Bacalzo
A gender-bending adaptation of Henrik Ibsens Hedda Gabler may sound
like a dubious theatrical enterprise, but the L.A.-based Fabulous Monsters
Performance Group pulls it off in grand fashion. Speed-Hedda is surprisingly
faithful to the original text. Sure, the action has been transported to
an American suburban town in the 1960s, Hedda is constantly speeding
on drugs, and the all-male cast members play both male and female characters.
But the basic plot and many of Ibsens lines remain intact.
At roughly an hour and fifteen minutes, the production lives up to its
name as a fast-paced adaptation of the 19th-century classic. Hedda Tesman
(Mark Brey) returns from a honeymoon in Europe with husband George (Jay
Smith). Theyre greeted by Georges doting Aunt Juju (Tim Dunaway),
they discover that the disgraced scholar Eliot Lovborg (Smith, again)
has returned to town, and they meet up with Heddas former schoolmate
and Lovborgs current collaborator, Thea (Dunaway, again). Also
on hand is Dr. Brock (Chris Wells), a manipulative fellow who is scheming
to gain absolute control over Hedda.
is perhaps the most altered in this adaptation. Not only is he friend
and confidant to the Tesmans, he is also presented as Heddas drug
dealer, keeping her supplied with a steady supply of controlled substances
in order to help her cope with her mind-numbing life. The production also
emphasizes or adds a few queer references to the play. For example, much
is made of the fact that Dr. Brock often enters through the back door.
And we are told that, during Lovborgs night of drunken debauchery,
he ends up at Madame Dannys, a club staffed by female impersonators.
(In Ibsens original text, he visits Mademoiselle Dianas,
a house of ill repute).
& costume designer Robert Prior has reconceived the play in an innovative,
cinematic fashion. This involves much more than just the on-stage screen
showing pre-recorded sequences that parallel or complement the live action:
Prior also creates jump cuts through quick pacing and seamless
set transitions. Two actors dressed in black maneuver various pieces of
furniture on wheels while also playing incidental characters such as waiters,
taxi drivers, and skycaps. John Zalewskis ingenious sound design
adds to the overall effect, driving the pace forward with appropriately
bizarre sound effects and mambo-flavored music.
Brey makes a marvelous
Hedda. His tall, angular frame gives the character a regal bearing that
emphasizes her haughtiness. Breys bitchy line delivery seems completely
appropriate, and the actor is equally good at turning some of the more
melodramatic sections of the script into campy but emotionally resonant
moments. One example is the infamous scene in which Hedda burns the only
copy of Lovborgs latest manuscript. This sequence one of the most
serious missteps of the recent Broadway production: The otherwise marvelous
Kate Burton was unintentionally humorous as she melodramatically exclaimed,
Im burning your child, Thea. Im burning your child!
Admittedly, even the most talented actress might have trouble delivering
this line seriously. Brey doesnt even try; he goes straight for
the jugular and, in so doing, achieves something wonderful.
Jay Smith is hilarious
as George, Heddas dull, bookish husband. His befuddled mannerisms
and wide-eyed expressiveness are pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, the actor
is less adept as Lovborg, the brilliant but self-destructive scholar and
former love interest of Hedda. Dressed in a black leather jacket and beret
and speaking in a gravelly, low-pitched voice, its obvious that
Smith is trying to make the character as distinct as possible from George.
However, his portrayal lacks focus (this may also be the result of poor
directorial choices). Its unclear why Lovborg is so surly to Thea
from the start; if thats his attitude, it makes no sense for him
to be so devastated by the loss of the manuscript that he and Thea created
together. Dunaway is more successful in his two roles, and is especially
delightful as Thea. With a blonde bouffant wig and pouty expression, this
Thea is a dazed, slightly incoherent creation that serves as the perfect
foil to Breys Hedda.
Speed-Hedda is a laudable
experiment by a talented theater company. Those familiar with Ibsens
play will be probably be intrigued by the way in which the Fabulous Monsters
have altered it; however, enjoyment of the production doesnt require
any prior knowledge of Ibsen at all
by Jessica Branch
heroine always wanted to be a man. Now she is.
Ibsen's modernist classic of a power-hungry upper-class housewife trapped
in a bourgeois marriage with a stuffy academic and driven by boredom,
vanity and pettiness to destroy the lives of those around her has seen
several New York productions this season: none more innovative than "Speed-Hedda."
Reset in 1962, this "Hedda" features a bleached-blonde, mambo-obsessed
amphetamine addict; a sleek, minimalist black-leather-and-studs set;
and a keenly cinematic adaptation of the original script.
Not content with merely updating the play, gender-bending West Coast performance
troupe Fabulous Monsters also intensifies the kitsch factor with an all-male
cast and a ramped-up, Benzedrine-fueled pace. This tight and surprisingly
true-to-its-source production achieves a stylish, feverish intensity that
ultimately transcends farce and transforms the dishpan drama into hopped-up
A CurtainUp Review
by Elyse Sommer
Robert Prior and his
troupe known as Fabulous Monsters have been reinventing the classics
for Los Angeles theater goers for more than half a dozen years. Now,
New Yorkers have two weeks to see Prior and his "Monsters" in
a fabulously inventive adaptation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. It's the
third production of the more than hundred year old play of the New
York season. It's also the most unusual.
Except for Speed Hedda's
inelegant sumup of her final descent into suicidal desperation quoted
above, Robert Prior has managed to keep all of Ibsen's best lines and
adhere to the basic plot with amazing fidelity. If the all-male cast,
headed by a Hedda who is a perpetually high on amphetamines, Mambo
mad 60s suburbanite sounds like high camp, well, so it is. But Mr.
Prior is a true Ibsen aficionado who knows how to have his fun and
at the same time pay tribute to the playwright' literary creation.
The result is a deliciously entertaining spoof, or, if you will, a
spoof-omage. And, as Prior goes over the top without going totally
off the plot track, Mark Brey is a Hedda who is not only archly comic
but touching - yes, touching, really! Of all the performers I've seen
in this open-to-many interpretations role, Brey's tall, angular blonde
will rank high in my theatrical memory book.
The choice of the
early 60s as a time frame proves to be quite apt for this new exploration
of what makes Hedda Gabler tick. This period of Camelot and lingering
50s conformity was also an all-time high for the prescription of amphetamines.
It thus makes perfect sense that our first glimpse of this updated anti-heroine
has her on a plane headed home from her boring honeymoon, a face wreathed
in disdain for her dull husband George (Jay Smith) and with a chunky black
pillbox perched on her neat blonde hair.
The story is framed
within the format of a black and white movie, complete with opening and
closing credits on an overhead screen. The film device enables us to catch
glimpses of Hedda shooting up when she's out of the family parlor and
makes it possible for George and Hedda's former flame, Eliot Lovborg,
both played by Jay Smith, to make simultaneous appearances - one on screen
and one on stage. Another amusing case of double role playing has Tim
Dunaway switching between the well-meaning meddling Auntie Juju (a twist
on Aunt Julia) to the noble Thea - Hedda's schoolmate and Lovborg's lover
Judge Brock (Chris
Wells), is now a doctor. Besides lusting after Hedda he keeps her (and
himself) high with pharmaceutical goodies stashed in his ever handy little
Two members of the
expert ensemble who contribute greatly without ever saying a word are
two Men in Black (Matthew Helton and Jacob Higgins). They not only handle
a variety of props but, as needed, actually become props themselves. The
staging generally is deceptively simple - a few chairs, a bench, a portable
barbecue grill for the famous burning of Lovaborg's manuscript, and a
screened off alcove with a high fi system to take the place of the traditional
off-stage room where Hedda occasionally retreats to play the piano or
with her father's pistols.
The costumes, dances,
videography, lighting and sound design are impeccable. All in all, Hedda's
descent into oblivion is a high-speed, highly enjoyable pistol packing
production you won't soon forget.