"Witness the missing bodies," says Shelby Richardson at the opening of Basic Instinct 1:1. "Know that nothing is missing. See what has been left behind."
What follows is a staging of the entirety of Basic Instinct, the 1992 Michael Douglas thriller, with one key difference. In this production, directed by Richardson and Samantha Johns, the men's roles have been entirely omitted. When male characters speak, the women onstage wait in silence. Scenes that include no women are skipped, resulting in Basic Instinct 1:1 being about 40 minutes shorter than the movie.
It's a radically different way to look at a film that's become, for better or for worse, iconic. Sharon Stone's character, a novelist suspected of committing a murder in exactly the manner described in one of her books, is remembered as a woman who unapologetically uses her sexuality (for example, in the infamous leg-crossing scene) to achieve her desired ends.
That makes Basic Instinct sound almost feminist, but with the male characters removed, it becomes apparent just how little the women actually have to do — except, of course, pose provocatively and remove their clothes.
"Everything is instigated by the men," says Johns. "The women respond. When they do initiate anything, it comes as a shock."
"When a woman actually does anything," adds Richardson, "There's this sting in the music." (Jerry Goldsmith's gothic score has been preserved in Basic Instinct 1:1, precisely cued to the action.)
Richardson plays Catherine, the Stone character. In this context, the role takes incredible concentration and complete commitment. Richardson's solo performance, two years ago, of the leg-crossing scene was the genesis of Basic Instinct 1:1. The central sex scene, referred to onscreen as "the fuck of the century," could also be a self-contained work of performance art.
It's no coincidence that Basic Instinct 1:1, produced independently, is being presented at the White Page gallery in south Minneapolis. Johns doesn't want the piece to be viewed purely as theater. "I wanted it viewed as an object, as an installation," she says.
Richardson and Johns precisely noted how director Paul Verhoeven's camera moves, and the performers onstage continually realign their bodies to reflect the way their characters are seen onscreen.
"Everything is funneled through Michael Douglas," says Genevieve Muench, who plays Catherine's lesbian love interest Roxy. In a crucial scene with Douglas' character Nick, Muench gets to do little more than look upset. In the movie, we realize, Nick tells us much more about Roxy than she herself does.
Removing the male characters from Basic Instinct reveals that the female characters virtually never speak to one another, and have dialogue that largely consists of brief responses to what men say.
Emily Gastineau plays the other woman in Nick's life: Beth, a psychologist who loves Nick despite being ill-used by him. Gastineau realized that there are "really disturbing parallels" between a scene where Beth is sexually assaulted by Nick and one where Beth in turn attacks Nick. Acting Beth's role is "almost the same, whether she's aggressing or being violated."
Lisa Channer, who plays an older friend of Catherine's, remembers seeing Basic Instinct in the theater when it first came out, and she remembers the attendant controversy. "In some ways, Catherine being a woman who loves sex and owns her sexuality was radical and exciting. But she's unstable, and her healthiest moments are when she's having sex with Michael Douglas."
In other words, when she's found a man with whom to have the fuck of the century. Having a same-sex fuck is a different matter entirely. "The movie says to be gay is an oversexualized act," Johns observes. In Basic Instinct, "if you're a lesbian, you're crazy and you kill people."
After their eye-opening adaptation of Basic Instinct, Johns and Richardson don't have immediate plans to take on any more movies. Channer, though, has an interesting idea: What about doing Thelma and Louise?
"Only," she said, "I'd take out the women and leave only the men."
IF YOU GO:
Basic Instinct 1:1
The White Page
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday