La Femme Est Morte
nytheatre.com review by Lucile Scott
May 15, 2008
The Shalimar's La Femme est Morte Or Why I Should Not F%!# My Son is an onslaught of superbly polished, thought-provoking cool that makes tragedy a rocking good time. Not to mention dead sexy (excuse the pun). The production is a melange of texts, ranging from Seneca's tragedy Phaedra, the basis of the plot, to interviews with George Patton and Angelina Jolie.
Indeed, the entire production is a hip, humorous, and beautiful commentary on America and our obsession with celebrity performed by an excellent ensemble clad in skin-tight clothing and one slinky zebra print dress. The plot: Phaedra wants to sleep with her stepson, Hippolytus. And Hippolytus wants to sleep with her. And with her husband and his father Theseus away at war, the tension builds and builds. The family is some combination of royalty and Hollywood celebrity and the show is as much about the reaction of those outside the house, the paparazzi, serving as the Greek chorus, slinking and dancing about, as those within. The head paparazzo and musical director, Joey Williamson, is the true star of the show, alternating between snide desperation, compassion and smooth dance moves as he responds to the happenings he is reporting on.
There are also several strikingly choreographed dance numbers and amusing covers of Sublime, the Black Eyed Peas and more, including an especially moving rendition of Guns N' Roses strummed out slowly on a harp as the paparazzi perch in a triangular tableau on a golden bed backed by shimmering silver streamers to perform the ditty.
The plot is punctuated by diatribes about America or from Americans, some recognizable, some that leave you thinking, "I have to know who said that." The most affecting and the one that most nails and explores the theme of celebrity obsession comes near the climax. Phaedra's assistant, Neevee, a short white woman dressed to look much more professional than the other cast members, steps forward amidst the melee to improbably declare that she invented hip-hop in a chilling and hilarious soliloquy that spins off from there.
Throughout the actors and the audience are kept safely removed from the emotions and the tragedy of Seneca's actual plot by the never waning irony that pervades the play and of course the hipster culture it is channeling and mocking. While some of the performers, including Kim Gainer as Phaedra and Atticus Rowe, an intimidating, fatigues-wearing Theseus, sincerely respond to the events, achieving a certain tragic absurdity amidst the shenanigans; others stick with irony, including Joe Curnutte (Hippolytus), who often seems like a funny and bewildered muppet.
The texts about celebrity, love, culture, and war are revealing and deftly woven together and it will be a while before I look at a Blackberry without remembering a scene in which one is quite literally ripped from a cold dead hand.