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THEATER REVIEW: ion’s “Heddatron” is a “wondrous mishmash”

Let’s see: a depressed housewife, a milquetoast husband and his Rambo-inspired brother, Henrik Ibsen, his wife Suzannah and contemporary August Strindberg, the Ecuadorean jungle – and oh, yes, five robots ranging from impressive to adorable that move, blink, talk and make passes at the aforementioned housewife.

Perfect elements for a play, right?

It’s Elizabeth Meriwether’s wild and woolly “Heddatron,” playing through March 31 at ion theatre under the direction of Claudio Raygoza.

It may not be great theater, but it is great fun, satirizing everything from existential angst to theater, the news media, theater critics, government sources and filmmakers in an unpredictable romp that Raygoza announces “may run 75 minutes or three days,” depending on whether the actor-robots behave.

Housewife Jane Gordon (Monique Gaffney), pregnant and depressed, sits on the couch reading Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.” Suddenly from behind her, a pair of robots named Hans and Billy (the Mutt and Jeff of the robot world) approach. When attempted seduction doesn’t work (how could she possibly resist Hans’ invitation to “listen to the sound of my enormous robot scrotum”?), they settle for abduction.

Soon she’s in that jungle in Ecuador, a robot captive forced to read Hedda Gabler’s lines in a read-through of the play.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – not that it matters. At the top of the show, Jane has simply disappeared and husband Rick (Nick Kennedy) and his brother Cubby (Noah Longton) are helping Film Student (Evan Kendig) make a film about Jane’s disappearance, and a neighbor’s report of a robot sighting.

Meanwhile, young daughter Nugget (Zoë Turner Sonnenberg) causes mirth with her school report about Henrik Ibsen and the elements of a well-made play.

Elsewhere, at breakfast in the Ibsen house, Suzannah (D’Ann Paton) guffaws at a review of “A Doll’s House” describing Nora as “trapped in the steamy kitchen of her own despair,” then returns to wrangling with her husband about food and any number of other domestic issues.

Their marital problems are not solved – but are definitely made more amusing – when Suzannah hires sexy Swedish maid Else (newcomer Amanda Vitiello), who disrupts Ibsen’s already disorderly libido even more.

Let’s see, who have I left out? Oh yes, Ibsen’s rival August Strindberg (Sven Salumaa), tall, rangy and randy, is around to torment his colleague (and sleep with his wife). And Engineer (Sara Beth Morgan), who insists on a taped news report that “robots don’t abduct people.”

And I mustn’t forget Aunt Julie-bot (voice of Trina Kaplan), she of the large flowered hat.

Huge kudos to robot designer Matthew Alexander and lead robot engineer Paul Geantil for the expertise that created tall, sleek Hans, short, squat Bill, elegant Aunt Julie-bot and two other adorable electronic critters.

Raygoza’s fold-out set serves nicely in the move from residence to jungle. He also created the sound and video.

Gaffney seems to carry more than the weight growing in her belly; she’s a genuine Ibsen woman, wondering if death isn’t preferable to her life. Kennedy’s Nick and Longton’s Cubby make a great unmatched set of essentially useless males.

Paton’s Suzannah is properly sardonic; Peters’ Ibsen distant and annoying; Salumaa’s Strindberg competitive and superior. Sonnenberg could use a bit better diction now and again, but she’s winning and adorable.

And oh, those robots! They may not be reliable (though they were on opening night), but they sure are fun to watch.

It’s difficult to know what to make of this wondrous mishmash. The best bet is just to relax and enjoy it. Leave the analysis to Nugget. And watch for the great production number toward the end.

The details

“Heddatron” plays through March 31 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 600-5020 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.