Kicking and Screaming

A promising entry at Midtown International; “Fatal Attraction”brilliantly de-constructed

Kathleen Warnock’s new play “Grieving for Genevieve” is well on the way to becoming a very strong play. Currently running as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival, the play demonstrates Warnock’s keen understanding of family dynamics, particularly the idiosyncratic nature of siblings who love each other at the same time they’d like to throttle one another and the challenges facing parents as they struggle, sometimes for a lifetime, to let go. Warnock also has a good ear for dialogue, a charming sense of the ridiculous that characterizes most families as well as an unerring sense of the absurd that often rings very true and makes her writing reminiscent of Rebecca Wells (“The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”) and Beth Henley (“Crimes of the Heart”).

By diving through the dysfunction and insanity, Warnock tells a timely story of healing, choices and dispelling the ghosts of the past.

The Peck women (three sisters and Mom) have gathered for Delilah’s third wedding. Delilah, the middle child, has been, to put it mildly, unlucky in love, with her ex celebrating her wedding by screaming vulgarly outside and leaving tire tracks in her lawn. Delilah is a rocker on the Maryland club scene. Angel, the youngest, is reconsidering her vocation and whether or not to leave the convent, and Danni, a sort-of-out lesbian is home for the first time in ages.

They are all fussed over by their mother Genevieve whose love for her children has made her awareness of personal boundaries non-existent. Over the course of the play, we watch Delilah’s wedding fall apart, and Genevieve suffer a stroke, which causes everyone to rethink their priorities.

When the play works, which is more often than not, the sense of a family in turmoil is palpable. Anyone who has ever had a fractious relationship with a sibling will recognize the decades-old resentments and “typing” that happens in families. (She’s the “smart one.”) Warnock’s play also raises a critical issue for our time—who will care for the parents who are not wealthy or provided for—and how do we resolve our own lives with the needs of our family. It’s a messy subject, and Warnock has explored it without dodging the mess.

I very seldom say this, but this is a play where more would be more. Some of the scenes are too short, which undermines the characters and seem informational rather than truly dramatic. Moreover, the characters are so interesting that it would be worthwhile to see more of them and what has brought them to this point in their respective lives. For example, I would love to know more about Delilah, played with amusing brio by Karen Stanion, because for almost all of the play she is simply strident and bossy. When she softens at the end, it’s quite affecting. We need to see more of this for each of these women, and after the mess we need a more specific resolution, though it’s apparent that the mess will follow the Pecks throughout life—as it does all of us.

I would have loved to have heard this script with real Baltimore accents, which would have certainly enhanced the absurdity of the piece with that grating back-of-the-throat nasality, but the actresses all do a fine job. In addition to Stanion, Susan Barnes Walker as Angel the nun and Jo Anne Bonn as Genevieve turn in fine performances. Meghan Cary as Danni is particularly good, giving a very present and focused performance.

Warnock’s talent as both playwright and storyteller is apparent, and I expect (and hope) we’ll see another version of this play sooner rather than later.

Whatever got into director Timothy Haskell to convince him that combining cheesy martial arts with movies of the 1980s was a good idea? Who knows, but in its own way, it works as camp, theater and social criticism. Haskell, who last year created a “fightsical” out of the god-awful movie “Road House,” has done it again, reinterpreting the pandering, superficial, proto-camp thriller “Fatal Attraction” as a parody of Greek tragedy.

When people are throwing furniture, mutilating puppets and imitating Glenn Close, who ranks as one of the most annoying and self-indulgent actresses of the last century, in one of her most overwrought and pretentious performances, it may seem peculiar to say that an artist’s vision has matured. Yet that is the case with Haskell.

“Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy” manages for all its hyperkinetic lunacy to be an insightful satire and indictment of popular entertainment and a biting commentary on gender and power. Where the real Greek tragedies took on such issues as fate, morality, the struggle of nations and the role of the gods in our lives, Alana McNair and Kate Wilkinson use the form to ironically suggest that the petty infidelities and grasping egoism of the characters is something that the gods would actually care about and comment on. Needless to say, this only heightens the ridiculousness of the story.

At the same time, the conceit works as a commentary on our celebrity-besotted culture because the characters go by the names of the actors who played them in the movie. Thus, we see the story enacted by Ann Archer, Michael Douglas and Close—perfect for a world in which major news organizations will spend more time on Tom Cruise and his love life than genocide in Darfur or famine in Nigeria and more people are likely to recognize Gwen Stefani than John Bolton.

Of course, Haskell’s production is not going to do anything to change anything in our culture, but it is refreshing to see our self-importance, ignorance and misplaced priorities so thoroughly lambasted. I particularly enjoyed the send-up of the kind of surface machismo that former child star Corey Feldman brings to the role of Michael Douglas. One can’t help but be reminded of the testosterone-drunk George W. Bush in both Feldman’s performance of an ultimately spineless character. Like Shakespeare’s Romeo, Douglas is “fortune’s fool” and requires rescuing, his strength a masquerade.

Wilkinson as Anne Archer gives a chilling, and often hilarious, performance of a woman so in thrall to her man that she becomes an idiot, only roused from her complacency by a threat to her home. McNair as Glenn Close has the performance down to a T, including the kohl-smirched eyes and scary perm.

The story is told in just over an hour and hits all the major plot points of the film. The non-stop action is punctuated by commentary from the Greek Chorus and the staging is a riot of intentionally badly executed karate. Hilarious, smart and just plain whacked, Haskell knows just where to deliver a swift kick.

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