The famous housemaid, Mammy (Yolanda Franklin), from Gone With the Wind is the comedic star of the current show playing at the Diversionary Theatre. However, you wouldn’t guess that based on the title of the play she is featured in, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler.
After shooting herself in the head, Hedda Gabler (Jacque Wilke) wakes up in a kind of purgatory where eccentric characters from all kinds of tales exist. Hedda does not like this existence, so she decides to go on a journey with Mammy to have the plot of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play changed, so that she can live.
Jeff Whitty’s script is self -referential with a capital s. Though reading the original drama is not necessary to enjoy this farce, I think it does add appreciation in understanding many of the allusions.
It’s pretty incredible how many references to pop culture Whitty includes, especially in the first act. Numerous fanciful creations make cameo appearances from Friday the 13 villain, Jason, to Little Orphan Annie. Each clever and silly homage works well in the context of Hedda’s quest.
Before going upstairs to get your seat, I would recommend looking at all the pictures, in the lobby, of the fictitious individuals who show up in this production. There is enough information contained below each photograph to add to a deeper appreciation for Whitty’s clear love for storytelling.
Kevin Anthenill’s sound design supplements the fun with audio snippets of everything from Hamlet to A Streetcar Named Desire. Be sure to stay during intermission and see how many bits of memorable dialogue from popular movies you can recognize.
Wilke captures the essence of Ibsen’s Hedda by making her empathetic, even though she is dangerously selfish. While Wilke is known for playing primarily comedic roles, I would pay good money to see her star in a version of the original tragedy.
Some of the biggest laughs come from Steven (Tony Houck) and Patrick (Luke Jacobs) who are based on two of the gay men in The Boys in the Band. Their consistently over the top one liners are irreverent and the actors clowning chemistry couldn’t be better.
While all of the performers do a great job, in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, it is Franklin as Mammy who leaves the biggest impression of the company. There is nothing politically correct about her depiction of the slave with a heart as big as her ample bosom, but Franklin’s brilliant timing is too funny to be offensive.
This is clearly a farce, and Franklin finds the humanity in her role by making Mammy utterly likeable. She is even more adored than Hedda, because while Ibsen’s heroine is pretty cold, the loving servant enjoys being of service to others.
A minor issue I do have with Whitty’s writing is that it is occasionally too ironic. I never had this problem with his book to one of my favorite musicals of recent years, “Avenue Q,” but there are a few lines poking fun of the absurdness of Hedda’s new world that are a little repetitive. This doesn’t happen too often, since director Matt McGrath makes sure the wisecracks come at a rapid fire pace.
The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler is a good time for fans of Ibsen, Gone With the Wind, The Boys in the Band, Madea, tongue in cheek humor, or any of the aforementioned. There might be too many meta-jokes for some, but so be it. I had a blast.
[box] The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler plays at Diversionary Theatre Sundays at 2, Mondays at 8, Thursdays at 8, Fridays at 8, and Saturdays at 8. Tickets are $35, $51 for premium, and may be purchased at the box office, by calling (619)220-0097, or by visiting the Diversionary website.