adapted &directed by: Robert A. Pryor
performed by: Mark Brey*, Tim Dunaway, Jay Smith*, Chris Wells*, and Robert Navarret
choregraphed by: Jessica Wallenfels
videography by: Rush Riddle & Marvin Soloman
lighting design: Josh Epstein
sound design by: John Zalewski

DigitalCity Review
TheaterMania Review, Jan 23, 2002
CurtainUp Review

Performance Schedule:
January 18th - February 3rd 2002
Thursday- Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday Matinee 2:30pm
The First Floor Theatre

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 libidinous turmoil.

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.

DigitalCity Reveiw
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 habitual ennui.

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.

Performed without 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!

Similar 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.

TheaterMania Review
Jan 23, 2002
Reviewed By: Dan Bacalzo

A gender-bending adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 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 Ibsen’s 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). They’re greeted by George’s doting Aunt Juju (Tim Dunaway), they discover that the disgraced scholar Eliot Lovborg (Smith, again) has returned to town, and they meet up with Hedda’s former schoolmate and Lovborg’s 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.

Brock’s role is perhaps the most altered in this adaptation. Not only is he friend and confidant to the Tesmans, he is also presented as Hedda’s 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 Lovborg’s night of drunken debauchery, he ends up at Madame Danny’s, a club staffed by female impersonators. (In Ibsen’s original text, he visits Mademoiselle Diana’s, a house of ill repute).

Director/adapter/set & 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 Zalewski’s 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. Brey’s 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 Lovborg’s 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, “I’m burning your child, Thea. I’m burning your child!” Admittedly, even the most talented actress might have trouble delivering this line seriously. Brey doesn’t even try; he goes straight for the jugular and, in so doing, achieves something wonderful.

Jay Smith is hilarious as George, Hedda’s 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, it’s 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). It’s unclear why Lovborg is so surly to Thea from the start; if that’s 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 Brey’s Hedda.

Speed-Hedda is a laudable experiment by a talented theater company. Those familiar with Ibsen’s play will be probably be intrigued by the way in which the Fabulous Monsters have altered it; however, enjoyment of the production doesn’t require any prior knowledge of Ibsen at all

CitySearch Review
by Jessica Branch
Ibsen's pistol-packing heroine always wanted to be a man. Now she is.

Top Speed
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.

Drag Coefficient
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 delirium.

A CurtainUp Review
by Elyse Sommer
Speed Hedda

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 and muse.

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 back bag.

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.

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