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A CurtainUp Review
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
I have... very warm feelings towards you... now that I know your story even more. Someoneā€¦ ought to make it up to you. Lets be friends. Can we? — Petra (to Karin)
l to r: Carolyn Gombe and Betsey Brown Betsey Brown (Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler)
A new liberty-taking consideration of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant now at Off Broadways New Ohio Theatre may also bring back memories for some of us going to the still seedily accommodating Henry Millers Theater seventeen years ago (before its subsequent and splendid restoration as the Stephen Sondheim Theatre operated by Roundabout Theatre Company.) That is where an extremely eerie adaptation of German film director Werner Rainer Fassbinder cult movie (1972) made a memorable impression, at least for me. ( Curtainup's review of that production)

This new version by the theatrical group Third Space is notable essentially for its more free-wheeling adaptation/loose translation by David Tushingham. The direction by Benjamin Viertel could also be considered as free-wheeling and loose.

In addition to the basic story about the psycho-sexual impulses and relationships that spark the behavior of three women, it includes an additional epilogue, make that a few lines, in which a cast member steps forward with hand-held mike to deliver a brief message about what happens to her character. Whether or not that addendum adds significantly to our questionable interest in what has preceded is another story.

Developed at the Abrons Arts Centers Resident Artists Program, this sketchily devised The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant may take its cue from the original film. But it is light years away from it in tone and temperament, as it barely attempts to explore the mystique surrounding either the neo-feminine or feral natures of its protagonists. Sadly, this production, although imaginatively staged, is neither embraced by a text that is even remotely in synch with its presumed agenda nor is it enhanced by performances that might have effectively answered the call.

The acting as a a whole is far from awful, but this company has not been guided to express or explore the dark and moody sensuality that made the film or the subsequent stage version so provocative. The pretentious text is awkward at best and spoken with little regard for creating real conversation. If there are more reasons to laugh at what goes on in the home of Petra von Kant than I was able to count, the overall effect of the experience was close to numbing.

Three women in love and in lust, are the engine in this superficially stylized story in which many more layers of camp might have worked wonders. Stand clear of self-absorbed seductress Petra von Kant (Caroline Gombe) when her sexual frustrations are as clearly marked as are her sensual undulations. Flamboyant and reeking with ego, Petra was once (maybe more) married but is now divorced with a teenage daughter Valerie (Lenore Harris). She is a famous fashion designer who spends much of her time either languishing in her abode in her kimono or speaking on the phone while under the eyes of her adoring seemingly mesmerized bespectacled assistant (or slave?)

Marlene (Alex Spieth) otherwise spends her days quietly sketching on a pad in corners but is always on the ready to serve her mistress. What is poor and plain Marlene to do when Petra's friend Sidonie (Mariana Parma) introduces Petra to the still married Karin (Betsey Brown) Petra is instantly sexually intoxicated by her. She tutors the notably uncomplicated, but undeniably slinky young woman to become a super star model. So that's how its done!

A certain amount of tension is created watching the unscrupulous Karin purposely antagonize the increasingly devastated Petra who, in turn, takes her frustrations out on the pathetically subservient Marlene. There is much ranting, raving and writhing about on set designer Bryce Cutler's pink quilted floor, giving the impression of a very large bed. A denouement that includes a visit from Petra's daughter and the grandmother (Jody Doo) in time for Petra's 35th birthday party becomes, as you might expect, a free for all amid plenty of those bitter tears — except for those confined to their seats.

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by Rainer Werner Fasssbinder
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Benjamin Viertel

Cast: Betsey Brown (Karin Thimm), Jody Doo (Gabrielle von Kant), Caroline Gombe (Petra von Kant), Lenore Harris (Valerie von Kant), Mariana Parma (Sidonie von Grasenabb), Alex Spieth (Marlene)
Scenic Design: Bryce Cutler
Costume Design: Emily Chalmers
Lighting Design: Mary Ellen Stebbins
Sound Design: Almeda Beynon
Dramaturg: Olivia OConnor
Production Stage Manager: Kelly Hartnett
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Third Space at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
(212) 675-6446
Tickets: $25.00 open seating
Performances: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm.
From 02/17/17 Opened 02/23/17 Ends 03/11/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/22/17

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