Amazons and Their Men
Walking Shadow Theatre Company; at Pillsbury House Theatre through November 1
Playwright Jordan Harrison concocts Amazons and Their Men from the barest threads of true history: Following her astounding film work documenting the rise of Nazi Germany (and making it dismayingly stirring and visually beautiful), Leni Riefenstahl began work on a film version of Penthesilea, starring herself as the Amazon queen with a major thing for the warrior Achilles. From here there isn't an inordinate amount of concern for historical accuracy, and this Amy Rummenie-directed Walking Shadow production generally locates the script's mix between humor and a search for meaning. Here the imperious filmmaker is billed simply as Frau (Zoe Benston), and we meet her as pure historical caricature, haughty, in service only to her own search for visual alchemy. Naturally, as she begins filming her movie, she's sheer hell on everyone involved. A primary target of abuse is Frau's sister Extra (Christine Weber, nicely managing the role's task of drawing out the audience's sympathy), though the Jewish actor who plays Achilles (Erik Hoover, billed as Man) and the telegram deliverer drawn in to portray Patroclus (Grant Sorenson) fare little better. The plot veers between quick-cut scenes and snippets of the Penthesilea myth, with Frau fending off telegrams from the government inviting her to produce more lovely propaganda, and dismissing contact from her mother regarding her dying father. Benston is sufficiently monomaniacal and proudly heartless in her portrayal of Frau, though she also employs quick comic timing to make the experience enjoyable rather than oppressive. This is a show that slides by quickly, and by the final cut we're left with an unwieldy armful of contradictions. Frau's film is about epic passion and a final visit from Love herself, though we peek through a window in time and see the Frau describe herself on her deathbed, demanding a final close-up, glacially unsentimental until the end. We're asked to see things from the Frau's point of view, with the beauty she envisions being enough truth for one lifetime, but we never really dig deeply into the icy possibility that she might have been right, in her fashion. The ideas aren't trifling, after all, even if they're presented here as though they are.