Reservoir Bitches

nytheatre.com review by Miriam Felton-Dansky
August 18, 2006

Six women sit in a diner, chatting excitedly and waiting for their check. Girls' night out? Not exactly. It's the cast of Reservoir Bitches, Canadian playwright Laura McGhee's all-female parody of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino's 1992 gangster flick. With the idea that reversing gender roles in Tarantino's bloodbath would make funny and insightful theatre, McGhee rewrote the screenplay for the stage and assembled an all-female cast.

Reservoir Bitches is clearly a labor of love for its energetic cast. If only the audience got as much out of it as the actors seem to: Reservoir Bitches suffers practically and conceptually in the leap from screen to stage, and from male to female protagonists.

McGhee replaces Tarantino's tough-guy banter with women chatting about, well, girl stuff. They worry about when their men will call, gossip about their families, and invoke the spectrum of female clichés. One explains that she needs this heist to offset gambling debts resulting from her compulsive personality. "It stems from control issues I had as a child," she notes. "That's one thing I know about myself." Another whines, after each bloody incident, "I need time to process this emotionally."

These jokes quickly grow predictable. In Reservoir Dogs, the contrast between the men's toughness and the pop-culture trivialities with which they concern themselves creates an uneasy humor. Here, girl talk only reinforces female stereotypes, and the desired contrast—between the women's silliness and the horrifying violence they commit—is absent because the violence itself is too silly to be believed. Though Reservoir Bitches presents itself as a parody of Reservoir Dogs, it demonstrates very little that is funny about Tarantino's film—not surprising, because Reservoir Dogs, itself partially a parody of classic gangster films, is already funny. Reservoir Bitches' real parody, whether intentional or not, is of stereotypical female behavior.

McGhee also has difficulty making the film exciting onstage. Due to theatrical exigencies (such as an inability to quickly clean up pools of fake blood), she unravels Tarantino's non-linear plot, placing the scenes in chronological order. Without the movie's fractured telling, the story loses much of its suspense. Filmed segments are used for difficult-to-stage elements of Reservoir Dogs: they're fun to watch, but add little visually or conceptually.

When McGhee does pay homage to Tarantino—as in the choice to keep the diner scene at the beginning, chronology aside—she uses his characters as foils for hers. Tarantino's men proffer an unforgettably dirty reading of Madonna's "Like A Virgin"; McGhee's is an emotion-based interpretation. Tarantino includes a male character who won't tip the waitress, while McGhee's women throw wads of cash on the table. We get it: women handle these situations differently.

Except they don't, really. The play doesn't suggest that women would have pulled off the heist more sensitively or intelligently, or avoided a bloodbath. Nevertheless, McGhee delivers a few choice moments that point up women's strength—and highlight what the rest of the play could have been. When her own character, Ms. Orange, appears at the warehouse with a bullet in her stomach, she responds to queries about her well-being by scornfully announcing that she has been in labor three times. "This," she says, "is a fucking papercut."

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