Playwright: Rainer Warner Fassbinder
At: Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland
Contact: 773/384-0494; $20 ( two-for-on on Thursdays )
Runs through: Nov. 4
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
Love as annihilation. Such is the emotionally violent world of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Rainer Warner Fassbinder's scorched-earth drama of a bisexual love triangle.
It's the sort of nihilistically humorous and outrageously stylized production that is the Trap Door Theatre signature, a piece that's a combination of Waiting for Godot depth and Valley of the Dolls camp.
Co-directors Krishna Le Fan and Beata Pilch give Denis Calandra's translation a screaming workout as the story of fashion designer Petra, her faithless lover Karin and her slavish, mute servant/slave Marlene tear up the stage with jazz-steeped carnality.
This is an anti-love story told like a jazz riff. When the women speak, it's with the modulated rhythms and dramatic dynamics of a vocalist leading an improv jazz combo up into frenzy, down to a writhing whisper and back up again to barely controlled cacophony. On-stage microphones heighten the effect, as the women vamp and writhe out words with what can only be called orgasmic intent. Sound designer Sam Lewis infuses the production with eruptions of jazz. The music isn't seamless: Early on in the 90-minute show, the scathing keyboards and wind instruments sound off in lurches rather than smoothly integrated outbursts. Even so, the music ( recorded, not live ) adds a roaring, essential musical dimension to Fassbinder's magnificent brutality.
The story is one of parallel relationships: Petra ( Nicole Wiesner ) is in love with Karin ( Kim McLean ) . It's love as brainsickness, the kind of personality-annulling devotion that makes one willing to debase and destroy oneself just to keep the object of one's affections nearby. Marlene ( Carolyn Shoemaker ) is likewise in love with Petra, devoted ( and wordless ) as a whipped puppy, willing to jump to the sky at Petra's slightest bidding.
That Petra was once married ( to a man ) and Karin is still thusly married makes for a rich spectrum of sexual politics. ( Neither husband appears on stage. ) Also adding to the panoply of free-flowing carnal desires is Petra and Karin's thigh-flashing mutual friend Sidonie ( Pilch ) . Finally, there's Petra's adolescent-ripe teenage daughter, Gabriele ( Geraldine Dulex ) , and her well-maintained mother, Valerie ( Marzena Bukowska. )
Wiesner's Petra is the fulcrum and the center of the production, a towering, voluptuous presence in low-cut black velvet and FM shoes, a woman who is equally powerful whether roaring with lust or whimpering with dejection.
Set designer Ewelina Dobiesz creates a stark environment of jagged silver and black angles, something that's reflected in Pilch's sly costume design of boobilicious evening gowns, micro-minis, go-go boots and massive feathered hats.
No matter how crazy-in-love the women of Petra become, they look fabulous.