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Zebra Crossing Theatre

There is something ironic--and sad too--about putting on a play about sex at all costs when its author has died from AIDS. If the script were a gem or the production an innovation, perhaps it might make some sense. But Zebra Crossing's Bluebeard, by the late Charles Ludlam, is at best an anachronism, and probably just plain insensitive.

Ludlam, one of the founders of the Ridiculous Theatre, borrows heavily from Oscar Wilde, Doctor Faustus, the Supremes, Betty Boop, and a whole smorgasbord of other pop culture faves to come up with this campy story about a mad scientist in search of perfect sex.

Ludlam's roguish Bluebeard seeks not only the perfect sexual encounter but the perfect genital: Dr. Bluebeard mutilates his would be lovers in attempts to create a third sex with its own distinct sexual equipment. His failed experiments end up as his slaves or, as in the case of Lamia the Leopard Woman, pathetic neuters seeking revenge. Bluebeard, however, doesn't care. He's bored and wants a perfect coupling . . . mutual penetration."

Now, there may be a myriad of opinions on this particular sexual practice, but mutual penetration is not exactly unheard of even among people with the usual sexual equipment--hasn't Ludlam heard of lesbianism? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, Ludlam barely gives women--whatever their sexual orientation--a nod, and under Patrick Trettenero's direction, women are the object of more than one misogynistic turn.

Take, for example, the casting. In almost any Ludlam production, it's common to find a drag queen. And since Ludlam usually wrote with some fun for himself in mind, he was likely to be the guy in heels. But Trettenero gives us not one, but two drag queens. Putting Jerome Stauduhar in the role of Mrs. Maggot is hard enough to justify--he doesn't have the flair Ludlam brought to the role. But the character is so grotesque that, with a healthy dose of willful disbelief, casting a man might be explicable. But Leo Daignault--the tall, Adam's apple-bobbing, bear-pawed Leo Daignault--as the old maid Miss Cubbidge? What's the point, other than for Trettenero to show us he thinks women are completely dispensable?

Most of Daignault's laughs come from the same source of laughter exploited in small-town drag revues--an exaggerated, prissy femininity with as little resemblance as possible to real live breathing human females. The Baton's Chili Pepper (now there's a drag queen you can respect) wouldn't be caught dead near this act, and with good reason. These are cheap laughs--laughs coming from men, for men, at the expense of women.

Not surprisingly, the few good performances here are by men, including Logan Bazar as Bluebeard. Bazar has just the right voice and energy for this lunatic role, and he pretty much anchors the play. John C. Seda, playing Sheemish the butler, also turns in good work, although the tumbling shtick is overdone. And by play's end, Joel Van Liew's hapless Rodney has the same effect on the audience that Art Carney's Norton in The Honeymooners used to have--you're ready to laugh the minute you see him, and for all the right reasons. On the other hand, Patty Acha's Sybil is simply annoying.

But because the production is dedicated not just to Ludlam but to all persons with AIDS, the epidemic's specter can't help but be present. It's hard to find humor in Logan's gleeful sexual greed with AIDS on the brain.

Of course, the script shouldn't be disavowed simply because of its attitude toward sex. After all, Ludlam couldn't have guessed his future when he wrote Bluebeard in 1970. Nor does the advent of AIDS demand any artistic apologies for past behavior: William Hoffman's powerful As Is and Jeff Hagedorn's One manage to be rightfully angry about AIDS without moralizing about or apologizing for promiscuity.

But why resurrect Bluebeard? Given Zebra Crossing's excellent track record with women and minorities, and especially the excellent record of its artistic director, Marlene Zuccaro (a feminist and dedicated antiracist, among other things), it's surprising to find Bluebeard as the season opener. I'm baffled by this choice--for artistic as well as political reasons.

The artistic problem with Bluebeard, I think, is that, because it's a product of its time--the late 60s and early 70s, in the exhilarating aftermath of the Stonewall riots and during the first inklings of Gay Liberation--the damn thing is dated, and not really very funny. I went with two friends and laughed all of twice; my female friend laughed once, and my male friend not at all. I grant you, if you like high camp--and I usually do--you'll probably laugh, but you'd better be in the mood for nostalgia. Bluebeard is just old lingerie.

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