Welcome back, Phoebe Zeitgeist.
Remember Phoebe? Back in the 1960s, she was the centerpiece of a sendup, often erotic comic book series satirizing adventure heroes and heroines. Phoebe lived on the edge and frequently almost met her demise. She was often kidnapped: Nazis chased her, she was grabbed by Chinese foot fetishists and even by a pack of lesbian assassins. Phoebe, always nude, narrowly escaped to live another day, her ordeals ever more bizarre.
I was mildly surprised when Phoebe – born on a distant star – turned up in Torn Space Theater’s production of the late and bizarre German filmmaker and playwright Rainier Werner Fassbinder’s absurdist “Blood on the Cat’s Neck.” Phoebe, still an extraterrestrial, is on assignment, a fact-finding field trip. This needs some explaining.
Phoebe Zeitgeist – her surname in German means “spirit of an age” – arrives from her home galaxy amid a fanfare of otherworldly sounds and images, exactly what you’d expect from Torn Space and director Dan Shanahan, a sensory barrage of light and color, blips and whirs and a 90-minute droning undercurrent that will not stop.
Phoebe watches from afar, down a tunnel of sorts, as eight partygoers, dressed in white, walk downstage and begin a series of monologues about themselves – their marriages, good, bad and floundering, sexual preferences, parenting issues, workplace goals or lack thereof – and they are, collectively, an unlikable, self-absorbed, 1970s “Me Decade” group. Spirit of their age, indeed.
A word about Phoebe: She hears the words but can’t understand them. She’s been instructed to “learn about democracy” and she tries. She apes gestures that she sees, memorizes the posturing of the people below: The Soldier, The Girl, The Mistress, The Dead Soldier’s Wife, The Lover, The Teacher, The Policeman, The Model. Phoebe hears arguments among them now, slurs, sneers, put-downs, sees abuse, verbally and otherwise, the worst that earthlings can offer. Relationships, interaction, contact, appear impossible.
Usually, in productions of “Cat’s Neck,” Phoebe, true to her comic book roots, wears only a hat, gloves and shoes. Naked, a baby, ready to learn.
Here, played by Jessica Wegrzyn, clad in clinging black, she has the look of Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider of video games and the movies, toned, shapely, intimidating. Did I mention that she’s also a vampire? Phoebe has heard enough. Time to put malcontents out of their misery.
Yes, it is party time.
A tuned cast makes this chilling but tedious piece, sometimes subtitled, inexplicably, “Marilyn Monroe vs. The Vampires,” work: Wegrzyn, methodically manic, is fine when she gets down to business; others, who very often seem to be in slow-motion, include Angie Shriner, Diane Gaidry, Becky Globus, Johnny Toohill, Andy Kottler, James Wilde, Ivan Rodriguez and the superb Bonnie Jean Taylor, happily finding her way to Torn Space, as The Model, scarily, dangerously narcissistic.
Great work again by the Torn Space technical team: sound, light, graphics and video.
“Blood on the Cat’s Neck,” one of Fassbinder’s last plays – he died of a drug overdose at age 36 in 1982 – remains a puzzler right up to its closing, Immanuel Kant-inspired Phoebe soliloquy. It’s a rambling few minutes that further muddies the night.
What: “Blood on the Cat’s Neck”
When: Through May 19
Where: Torn Space Theater, Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, 612 Fillmore Ave.
Tickets: $15 to $25
Info: 812-5733 or www.tornspacetheater.com