Fatal Flaw

I greeted the announcement of Stray Cat Theatre's Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy with great glee, thinking, "At last! Someone has noticed the similarities between gory Hollywood revenge films and the texts of ancient Greek tragedies!" And I headed for opening night of this particular production with a similarly giddy thought: "Alicia Sutton as Anne Archer! Hooray!"

My enthusiasm, it turned out, was a bit premature. Fatal Attraction, while certainly full of frenzy and more than a few big-laugh moments, should have been a lot funnier than it was. And that's due more to the over-long script than to the downright exhausting work by a fine director and better-than-average cast.

It seems unlikely that any living American has missed the 1987 film version of Fatal Attraction, which appears to be on a constant loop on several different cable channels lately. For those who don't recall the plot, this is the film where Michael Douglas plays an arrogant pigbag lawyer who fucks around on his wife, Anne Archer, with hotshot businesswoman Glenn Close, who turns out to be a psycho who won't let Douglas dump her. She pretends to be pregnant and, when that doesn't work, turns into a troublesome stalker who seeks revenge by ratting out Douglas to his wife and — remember this? — boiling his daughter's pet bunny.

McNair and Wilkinson have written in a Greek chorus (played rather brilliantly in this production by Nessa Hawkins, Brian Klein, Scott C. Jeffers, and the always magnificent Johanna Carlisle) who comment on the action in faked-up ancient Greek parlance and with references to old "better etiquette" books. The authors' other big conceit is that the actors refer to each other not by the names of the characters in the film but by the names of the actors who played them in that movie, which I'm sure is some kind of oblique commentary on how little we care to see a screenwriter's contribution to our favorite film performances.

As "Michael Douglas," Christopher Mascarelli (owner of the most improbable hairline in local theater) makes the very most of what, as written, is essentially a one-note character by playing even his smallest gesture at beyond-fever pitch. Mascarelli has plenty of competition, of course, from Cynthia Rena's "Glenn Close," whose simple entrance in a frizzy blonde wig and form-fitting frock convulsed the audience before she'd uttered a word. (To be fair, her ability to look like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction is more than matched by her ability to play high-strung comedy).

Mascarelli must also compete with Sam Wilkes, who plays Douglas and Archer's daughter, "Ellen Hamilton Latzen," if only because he is a young man playing a girl-child, a set-up that's always good for a guffaw. Would that Alicia Sutton provided greater distraction from Mascarelli's and Rena's scenery-chewing, but, as "Anne Archer," she simply can't — as a creamy Suzy Homemaker wife-and-mom — compete with all the humping and bone-crushing her co-stars are handed.

Ultimately, Fatal Attraction is a clever routine that overstays its welcome. Sure, there's a balletic boiled-bunny dream sequence, and a funny re-creation of the infamous "elevator sex scene" involving a scrim and some back-lighting. But even though director Amanda Monrad has assembled an excellent cast and helped them keep up the necessarily frenetic pacing throughout, neither fact can compensate for a script that runs out of steam about midway through its many frantic scenes.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela