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Spring ’22 Mainstage: Heddatron

posted on May 10th, 2022 by Gemma Siegler

by Ayesha Robyn F. Domingo ‘22

Please note: This article extensively discusses the play Heddatron, which contains difficult subject matter surrounding mental health, depression, domestic violence, and suicide.

On April 22, Heddatron, written by Elizabeth Merriweather and directed by Dennis Schebetta, made its debut on Skidmore College’s Mainstage. The story of Heddatron is set in 2006 and follows Jane, a pregnant housewife from Ypsilanti, Michigan, who is kidnapped by robots and forced to perform Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with her robot captors. At the same time, we also follow Henrik Ibsen in 1800s Norway and his journey in writing Hedda Gabler.

Sophie Pettit ’22 as Jane Gordon.

Heddatron was an immense undertaking because the play had four actual robots who played the characters of Hedda Gabler. Designed by Gary Wilson and built by Ballston Spa Central District’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 3044, the robots required a lot of labor to be built and integrated onto the stage. Three actors worked as robot operators and controlled the robot’s movements onstage, as well as their physical expressions, such as the movement of their arms and head. On top of that, it was arduous work to construct the robots from scratch and ensure their smooth and functional movement for multiple shows.

As the play begins with Jane picking up a Hedda Gabler book that fell from the sky, the audience is also given a peek into Henrik Ibsen’s personal life and marriage. Ibsen seems a little awkward and appears to avoid intimacy with women, only finding solace in his dolls. It is hinted that his reclusion is the result of growing up with a father that abused his mother, and the regret of not being able to do anything about it. The first few scenes introduce us to both Jane and Ibsen’s anguish in their daily lives. Although modern-day Michigan has very little to do with 19th-century Norway, the fates of Jane and Ibsen magically intertwine in Robotforest. 

Kathryn Stathikas ’22 as Nugget Gordon.

Audience members are exposed to a multisensory and multimedia experience when watching Heddatron. Screens are placed above the stage to show the Film Student’s interview with the Engineer, as the latter discusses his thoughts on Jane Gordon’s abduction. The screens are also heavily utilized in the Robotforest scenes when the whole stage goes red and a pervasive “SAY YOUR LINE” blows up on screen whenever Jane does not follow the script.

To top it all off, there is even a dance number to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart, and the cast’s own rendition, at that. It was a beautiful contemporary piece with symbolic, meaningful hand gestures that represented various themes in the play. To see the robots and characters from the two time periods collide in this dance was a hilariously fun and fresh experience, especially with the disco lights that lit up the entire theater.

Gigi Brown ’24 as Else and Will Davis-Kay ’23 as Ibsen.

To describe this play as chaotic would be an understatement. One might wonder, why Hedda Gabler? But in actuality, there are some parallels between Jane and Hedda. They are both depressed, pregnant and unhappy around their husbands. However, there is one key difference between the two women: Jane, however little, opens up and lets people into her heart, and has people who love and care about her. Although Jane tries to shoot herself in the head to kill herself the way Hedda did, Jane survives. Jane is rescued from Robotforest but seems unhappy at home. And despite acting withdrawn, Jane’s daughter, Nugget, still tries to connect with her mother and tell her about school. Nugget helps clean up Jane’s blood whenever her head injury opens up again. Jane’s husband, Rick, even offers to sell all their things to afford to bring Jane back to Robotforest if that will make her happy. Jane’s choices towards the end of the play teach us that if you take the leap and let yourself be vulnerable with the right people, then a beautiful future lies ahead.

Jane (Sophie Pettit ’22) reading Hedda Gabbler.

All in all, Heddatron is an amusing and unforgettable show that has it all: drama, comedy, robots, time travel, song, and dance. The hard work that went behind integrating actual robots into the production, the choreography work, and the multimedia experience exemplify that we should always be striving to soar to new heights when crafting a unique theatrical experience and that the efforts behind the show will be rewarded and received with warmth when we do so. Heddatron is a beautiful, multifaceted show that explores how people navigate romantic and familial relationships as they recover from trauma, a woman’s struggles during pregnancy, hilarious robot antics, and how to live in the moment despite whatever craziness life throws at you.

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Ayesha Robyn Domingo ’22 is a staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter


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