Published at TheSunbreak.com August 14, 2012.
Okay. I shouldn’t like Kittens in a Cage at Annex Theatre (through August 25th; tickets). I really shouldn’t. It’s a riff on lezploitation and reminded me of a really bad ’70s softcore porn about lesbians in prison that someone (who was totally not me) might have watched on Skinemax when they were fifteen. But I can’t help it. I love Kittens in a Cage.
Yes, it’s campy. There’s not a message, or a greater purpose. There’s a one-armed matron who has all the vigor (and lines) from a B-movie villain. There’s no redemption and the most traumatizing thing that happens actually doesn’t matter because this is a land without lasting consequences for our leading ladies.
But it has a ukelele! A pretty lady sings with a southern twang (I’m from Tennessee so this made my stomach backflip)! And gorgeous women kissing one another and having feelings! And I learned so many new ways to refer to my genitalia (most of them were fish related, but still they were clever)! And it’s the first show I’ve seen in a long time that has an all-female cast with a female playwright (ladies writing about lady-loving–unheard of)!
Under impeccable direction by Bret Fetzer, Kittens in a Cage by Kelleen Conway Blanchard is a joyous bad-girl romp through a lesbian-loving field of daisies where bitches get shanked in the shower. So, the plot–and there is one–focuses on Junie (played by the dark-haired vixen Francesca Mondelli), who was unfortunately backstabbed by her friends after innocently shooting a bankteller in the neck. It could happen to anyone.
Junie’s no-good friends sold her out and she’s sent off to a woman’s correctional facility run by the one-armed matron (Lisa Viertel) and the rough around the edges prison guard, Nancy (Katie Driscoll). Viertel and Driscoll play beautifully off each other with clear affection and unrequited love though they both despise the uncleanliness of homosexuality. (Their exchanges reminded me wonderfully of Captain Monica Stark and Cookie in Psycho Beach Party.)
Junie then becomes the object of affection as the “new fish” (sorry, brief pause while I chuckle) in a pool of despicable inmates who are all several steps away from the line of sanity. Quickly, Junie falls for her cellmate, Vickie (played by the omg-I-want-to-cuddle-with-you Laurel Ryan) which don’t sit right with the other fishes, specifically the big kahuna, Jeanine.
Jeanine (Tracy Leigh), played with an accent that sounded unbelievably like AppleJack from MLP: Friendship is Magic, lusts after the seemingly simple Junie and has some of the best references to vaginas and cunnilingus I have ever heard. Jeanine’s over-the-top “I’m gonna get you” panache is paired with the subtle and remarkable Erin Pike who plays the silent Barbara, incarcerated for eating a girl scout troupe.
But of course, not all can be happy in a lesbian prison. Sigh. No. You can’t just have hot people in skimpy outfits, lusting after one another. We can’t just live in that world…of imprisonment. Oh no. Dark and nefarious things are happening. Our resident crazy (played by the seamlessly shifting Erin Stewart) comes to deliver the harrowing news in true “I took a few too many blue pills,” fashion: The matron likes to “fix” the inmates with science! Cue the sound of things buzzing and a green light cue.
Speaking of lighting and sound, we have the talents of Tess Malone and Kyle Thompson, respectively. Malone’s lights get creepy at all the good parts. And Thompson’s SCIENCE! noises seemed to be taken direct from Bride of Frankenstein (in a good way). Not to mention the songs which I absolutely wanted more of, written by a very talented man named Rick Miller.
At this point I’d normally advocate for some deeper meaning. Something that would elevate this play to the next level, make it more than just a lesbian comedy with a lot of cleavage. But, I can’t do it. In its B-movie, lezsploitation simplicity, Kittens in a Cage resonates. It’s not the same crap (see: wedding/dinner party gone awry). It’s mocking exploitation as opposed to actively exploiting (seriously, I stopped looking at cleavage when Junie started singing). And hey, it’s actually funny in a clever way.
Especially in a season of Annex’s that has been unbelievably male (I’m looking at you, Lewis and Clark), Kittens overflows with female talent with the additional bonus of incredible singing, acting, grisly biting of license plates, and a truly funny script. Kittens in a Cage may not be a change-your-life night of theatre, but it’s certainly a welcome relief to the heat. Especially in a time when women are still having the “Women: Do they have a sense of humor?” debate, I’ll take Kittens in a Cage over A. R. Gurney any day.