Bluebeard | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


BLUEBEARD, Defiant Theatre, at Victory Gardens Theater. Charles Ludlam was an aesthetic anarchist, ridiculing "seriousness" in the theater and reveling in Z-grade schlock. Yet his skill as a playwright and his knowledge of theater history allowed him to combine elements from Aristophanes and commedia dell'arte with drag shows and sci-fi thrillers to deconstruct the sexual politics of modern America. As he once said, "I wanted to find ways of getting beyond my own personal taste...and say yes to everything."

In Bluebeard, inspired by H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, Ludlam says yes to sexual bedlam, as the libidinous Baron Khanazar Von Bluebeard slices up the domestic help in a failed attempt to create a third sex with "some new and gentle genital." When his virginal niece, Sybil, arrives on the island with her virtuous fiance, Rodney, and their priggish chaperone, Miss Cubbidge, Bluebeard is soon running around naked and seducing everyone in sight.

Director Jim Slonina gleefully indulges Ludlam's cheese-ball side, pushing his actors to camp up the proceedings whenever possible. Often the outrageousness is a bit labored, particularly during the show's first half. But when the cast attains complete theatrical abandon--as when Bluebeard strips naked and dives headfirst into Miss Cubbidge's vagina, flutter-kicking his way until he disappears completely--the results are gloriously awful. --Justin Hayford

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