O ye theater gods, who hath provided us such ’80s kitsch! (We shall not want.) It would be hubris for one critic to try to stem the tide of retro revivalism, and anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. Sure, the show’s humor is all about sex jokes, ham acting, and watered-down postmodernism — and Woody Allen did the mock-Greek Chorus thing better years ago in Mighty Aphrodite. Still, there’s something undeniably appealing about watching Goonies star Corey Feldman playing a misogynistic character named “Michael Douglas” in a spoof of the eponymous melodrama. In the capable hands of director Timothy Haskell and a creative design team, it’s a hilarious diversion.
You don’t have to have seen the movie to enjoy the play, but it helps. “Michael Douglas” (Corey Feldman) is a trial lawyer who has an affair with his colleague “Glenn Close” (Alana McNair). Their fling comes back to haunt Douglas’s family when Close conceives a child and develops a murderous obsession. She harrasses “Michael”‘s doting and ditzy wife, “Anne Archer” (Kate Wilkinson), with late-night phone calls, and even tries to get revenge via their young daughter, “Ellen Hamilton Latzen” (Aaron Haskell). A Greek Chorus fills in for the special guest stars that pop in along the way, including a babysitter who introduces herself as “Tony Award-winning actress Jane Krakowski.”
The heavily ironic script presents the story as an anti-feminist fable about how a strong-minded and independent woman will stop at nothing to shatter the family unit. Co-writers Kate Wilkinson and Alana McNair have a point there: Film critics of the ’80s blasted Fatal Attraction‘s Hollywood ending, which threw away the psychological realism of the first half to give the villain her comeuppance. The outlandish finale turned the blockbuster into a thriller about a psychotic, vindictive, and seemingly indestructible female.
To drive this point home, the playwrights have employed texts from several plays by Euripides (including Medea) and an old primer called Home and Health and Home Economics. The cut-and-pasting of these works is done in the style of Charles Mee, the creator of Trojan Women: A Love Story, but Wilkinson and McNair don’t have nearly the same flair as that playwright. As a result, Fatal Attraction drags considerably during the first half.
Fortunately, Haskell works magic as the play’s director. He doesn’t exactly pull a rabbit out of a hat, but the devices that he uses to recreate the movie’s infamous “bunny” scenes shouldn’t be missed. Ditto the bathtub finale, which Haskell ominously foreshadows before the play has even begun. (Fight choreographer Rod Kinter probably deserves much of the credit for the effectiveness of these sequences.) Haskell’s experience as a publicist shows in the play’s myriad pop-cultural references; the term “self-aware” doesn’t even begin to describe his style of direction. He winks until his eye gets watery and nudges you until your side is bruised.
Corey Feldman has mastered the stern facial expression that’s been the hallmark of Michael Douglas’ career, and he’s a great sport in a show that takes many jabs at his own celebrity. The co-writers are a riot as the play’s leading ladies, Wilkinson as Archer the naïf and McNair as Close the bitch. Strangely enough, Aaron Haskell delivers the most nuanced and restrained performance of the bunch as the little girl. The actors in the chorus are adequate in their roles, but they represent the least inspired element of the production.
Designer Paul Smithyman’s set contrasts the main characters’ abodes. Close’s apartment is stark white while the family’s home features floral wallpaper. The only “Greek” aspect of the set is that both houses have columns. Haskell and prop designer Faye Armon have come up with an inspired, low-budget way to indicate that one notorious scene is taking place in an elevator. Tyler Micoleau’s sharp lighting mirrors the jump cuts of a camera. Like the movie that it mocks, Gorilla Productions’ Fatal Attraction is short on substance but long on style.