La Femme est Morte
nytheatre.com review by Pete Boisvert
July 15, 2007
Pick up a newspaper, flip through a magazine, or turn on a cable news channel. Odds are the first story you encounter will be on one of two topics: war or celebrity gossip. These twin themes provide the yin and yang of 21st century corporate media. In Shalimar Productions' LA FEMME EST MORTE or Why I Should Not F!%# My Son, a very modern adaptation of the Phaedra myth by Shoshona Currier, military jingoism and the lifestyles of the rich and famous collide, with fascinating results.
Currier's Phaedra is that most modern form of royalty: a celebrity, worshipped by all. Reclining on her bed throughout the first half of the play, she juggles pilates and kabbalah lessons, gives interviews to sleazy celebrity gossip hounds, and harbors secret desires for Hippolytus, the son of her warrior husband Theseus from his previous marriage to an Amazon. Hippolytus has sworn off women in order to keep himself pure for his boxing regimen—and also to hide his own feeling for his stepmother ("Not my mother!" as both he and Phaedra frequently exclaim throughout the buildup of the show).
This unspoken love rises to the surface quickly, with Phaedra and Hippolytus confessing their mutual lust over a bag of fast food. Believing Theseus to have been killed while on military duty in Crete, the unlikely lovers consummate their desires in the absent husband's bed. Of course Theseus isn't really dead, and when he makes his triumphant return from the war to a crowd of flashbulbs and microphones, all manner of hell breaks loose.
Kim Gainer commands the stage as Phaedra, with all the self-obsession, charm, and magnetism of the modern celeb. She sucks in attention from everyone around her like a black hole of narcissism. As her husband Theseus, Atticus Rowe delivers a solid, exciting performance, bringing an "invade first, ask questions later" attitude to the latter half of the play.
Hippolytus is slightly underwritten here; he begins the evening all repression and restraint, but once he succumbs to his affections for Mother, there isn't a lot left for him to do. Joe Curnutte fills the role with enthusiasm, particularly in his sparring sessions with Craig Peugh as his best friend X. Boxing is a recurring motif throughout the play, and Curnutte, Peugh, and Rowe pull off these scenes with pugilistic grace and brutality.
Joey Williamson's paparazzo Tiresias brings a wicked sense of humor to the piece, wallowing in the Page Six dirt gleefully and drinking one too many mojitos along the way. Complementing Williamson, Jen Taher shines as Phaedra's press agent Neevee, nailing one comedic moment after another.
Music and dance play a central part in the evening. Williamson, Laura Lee Anderson, and Marissa Lupp form a paparazzi chorus that comments on the action through karaoke-style pop covers. These numbers are often clever and entertaining, creating a witty counterpoint to the action, but at times the combination of miked singers and prerecorded music becomes distracting, swamping the scenes they are supposed to accent.
I can't say that celebrity gossip and warmongering are two of my favorite themes, but they are certainly preoccupations of our time and country. LA FEMME EST MORTE is being presented at the East to Edinburgh festival at 59E59, and when Shalimar makes the jump across the Atlantic in a week or so for the Edinburgh Fringe, America will be fairly (if savagely) represented by Currier and her crew.