It's hardly unusual for a smart young theater company to apply its edgy vision to the classics. But blahblahblahBANG, the latest project by Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET), aspires to be more than just a clever new interpretation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler.
The show, two years in the making, presents a kind of ensemble self-portrait: a summa of WET's aesthetic preoccupations and stylistic tics. Moreover, this commission by On the Boards is a high-profile step. It marks the first production – since the company was launched in 2004 – to be staged outside the confines of WET's tiny black box home (Capitol Hill's Little Theatre).
The enthusiasm WET brings to the project is so palpable that you expect it to brim with memorable epiphanies. Instead, the result is a clear case of the whole seeming considerably less than the sum of its parts, intriguing as these are in many instances. And perhaps that's part of the vision intended by playwright Matt Starritt, collaborating with the WET ensemble, in this radical reworking of Ibsen's script: to underline the fundamentally ungraspable nature of this theatrical icon, which eludes being reduced to whatever fixed ideas each generation tries to lasso her with.
"Written by Ibsen ... destroyed by WET" runs the company's tongue-in-cheek tag. But blahblahblahBANG probes its source far too closely for missing clues, for subtexts and meanings hidden between the lines, to give even the illusion of wanting to efface the enigmatic appeal of Ibsen's 1890 tragedy. This isn't a postmodern deconstruction along the lines of, say, Heiner MÃÂ¼ller's Hamletmaschine or The Wooster Group's mixed-media tangents on Racine's Phèdre, titled To You, the Birdie! (which appeared on tour at On the Boards a few years ago).
What Starritt and colleagues are after is to detonate theatrical conventions–a goal which Ibsen himself accomplished, with such success that he in turn established a new set of conventions.