Only in the wacky world of Off-Broadway theatre could the distance between Oedipus the King and Michael Douglas the Movie Star be measured in the span of a single stage. And only in the twisted writing and staging of Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy could it make even the slightest amount of sense.
Authors Alana McNair and Kate Wilkinson and director Timothy Haskell walk a fine line with their volatile new offering at the East 13th Street Theatre. In some ways, it's a daring, exciting deconstruction of an epochal film of the 1980s; in others, it's a bloated and eye-rollingly obvious attempt to make the theatrical from the unstageable, at any cost to the original property. Say what you will about this jagged 70 minutes of theatre, but it takes chances, and isn't afraid to fail.
And for the most part it doesn't. It even commands a certain sick respect, if only for its melding the 1987 James Dearden-Nicholas Meyer screenplay with Euripides's Medea, The Heracleidae, Akestis, and Hippolytus and the 19th century primer Home and Health and Home Economics. The inspired stroke of tying contemporary sexism with traditional dramatic forms assigns the material a weight and dramatic vitality the creators of the original film would likely be surprised to discover.
But this is all done in service of a condemnation of the Hollywood power structure and societal sexism that made the original film possible. The central characters aren't those of the film, but instead the actors who played them: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, and Anne Archer, and they've been reduced to archetypes (Douglas the get-away-with-anything womanizer, Close the wants-it-all working woman he briefly takes up with, Archer the vapid homemaker) that have been woven directly into the fabric of a play that in turn makes fun of them.
Thus the story of Close's violent reprisals to her brief fling with Douglas takes a backseat to a series of raffish gags playing off the leads' exaggerated senses of self-worth. One of the secret trysts between Douglas and Close finds him bellowing "I am God" at a crucial moment; at another point, Archer and Douglas's babysitter arrives with the declaration, "Hi, I'm Jane Krakowski," which of course elicits the dry retort, "Not yet, you're not." Moments this clever are somewhat uncommon occurrences; the authors are more dedicated to hammering in their own exaggerated themes about the movie's intentions: Close frequently screams "I'm a working woman," Douglas conspicuously wears his wedding ring on his middle finger, and so on.
Much of this is amusing, sometimes even brilliant - my personal favorite stroke is the casting of a male actor as Douglas and Archer's creepily androgynous daughter, Ellen Hamilton Latzen - but the tone is seldom consistent. The interpretation of quotes from the outside sources (intoned by a sardonic chorus) grants the play a striking aural quality that alone isn't enough to give the story or jokes the weight that everyone involved wants them to have. The show still plays primarily like a parody, which never feels exactly right.
Still, it has an ideal director in Timothy Haskell, who's also helmed stage adaptations of Road House and Paris Hilton, and thus has the correctly skewered perspective for this. He proves here why he's one of Off-Broadway's most visionary comic directors, skillfully balancing the film's harsh realism without sacrificing the stark theatricality of the play's Greek antecedents. And he never lets the pacing or the energy flag long enough to dislodge the audience from the off-kilter world he creates. (He has plenty of vital support from the disjointed, two-apartment set by Paul Smithyman, unforgiving lighting by Tyler Micoleau, hyperactive fight direction by Rod Kinter, and dances by Rebeca Ramirez.)
The show at times seems so high-concept that it threatens to dwarf the actors, and too often, this is what happens. Wilkinson and McNair, playing Archer and Close respectively, have a lot of fun with their roles, but don't bring a lot of added depth or comedic insight; Nick Arens, Sergio Lobito, Kellie Arens, and Ebony A. Cross are the charismatic but not particularly authoritative choristers. Aaron Haskell, however, is perfect as the ditzy Latzen, and milks her unspoken gender confusion for all its worth. (He's also terrific in an avant-garde choreographic tribute to a boiled rabbit.)
But the standout is 1980s teen film star Corey Feldman, who plays Douglas as equal parts overstuffed caricature, imitative William Shatner, and Corey Feldman. It doesn't do much to elucidate character specifics, but centers a play that can't otherwise be easily centered. He connects with Douglas's God complex in a way both eerie and convincing, and overplays every line in a way that's never quite overacting. His presence is crucial in helping the play find its true form as a meta-theatrical comment on... well, just about everything, and his contributions seem even more vital than those made by McNair, Wilkinson, and Haskell. Never underestimate the ability of a star - however unexpected - to make a so-so production into a worthwhile event.
The play itself, however, isn't likely to prove its own worth until its focuses in narrowed and clarified. Until then, star casting is the best bet to unlock the full power of Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy - I think Molly Ringwald is available.
Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy