Jeff Whitty's new play, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, is a valentine to dramatic literature, the creative process and the power of the imagination. But it's also a gleefully delirious, wildly imaginative ride that owes as much to The Simpsons and The Wizard of Oz as it does to Ibsen and Sophocles.
We find ourselves in a universe in which every fictional character exists so long as they're remembered by readers and audiences. If forgotten, they die; but if read or produced, like Hedda, they live forever. The problem? Everyone is fated to live the same way they were created.
For the depressed Hedda, that means an eternity of suicides; for Gone with the Wind's Mammy, it means eternally grinnin' and gwinin' and scrubbin' and slavin' for Whitey. Fed up, the two embark on a search for their respective wizards—their authors—to persuade them to end their stories differently. Their destination: the dreaded Furnace—the entry point into this world, where characters are dumped the moment their stories are complete.
Director Bill Rauch imbues this Oz-like journey with a self-referential, pop-culture-riffing Simpsons feel. You never know when an operatic phantom, self-hating queer from Mart Crowley's landmark play The Boys in the Band or chainsaw-wielding Jason will emerge from the shadows.
The story lags some once the Furnace is reached; the real lessons learned by the characters, and the audience, are found during the journey, with the presence of self-hating faggots and a stereotypical house nigger giving Whitty a great chance to expound on how artistic renderings of homosexuals and African-Americans have changed over the years; and how valuable these dated, offensive representations are in the march toward creative equality.
Hedda'sstrength is in these moments. Its stumbling attempt to find a grand, sweeping ending fails to make this a great play, but its many wonderful moments amply compensate. Whether it's a beatific Jesus pondering why there are so many baby Jesuses and bloody, crucified Passion of the Christ Jesuses, but so few like him in this universe, or a martini bar aboard the African Queen,this play never fails to stimulate, entertain, dazzle and move. If a universe of fictional characters truly does exist, Whitty's riffs will be sucking air for a very long time.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER. SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, JULIANNE ARGYROS STAGE, 655 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-5555. TUES.-FRI., 7:45 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., ?2 & 7:45 P.M. THROUGH JAN. 29. $20-$58.