I knew I was in for something different when I picked up the flyer for this production from a café table. It was shouting out for a review – something to do with the parental warning (not recommended for children under 12), the billing as a vaudeville catastrophe and the promise of turning the theater into a death trap. I wasn’t disappointed.
Taking its inspiration from movies like The Blair Witch Project, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pulp Fiction and numerous other slash films and counterculture classics, Ma Femme, performed by the Les Gueuribands theater company, is certainly a gory show, but it is also genuinely funny, provided you like your jokes on the sillier side. The cocktail of humor and horror makes for an original production.
It starts off as a play within a play. Three actors, called Serge, Laurent and Karin, are staging a mediocre vaudeville comedy in which the husband returns home from the office to find his wife enjoying some extramarital entertainment with a local businessman. Suddenly, a spotlight falls from the ceiling and crashes through the kitchen table. The lights go out, and the audience is told that the performance has been cancelled due to technical problems. That is when the real play begins.
The three actors are now joined on stage by their director, Régis, and the troupe is subjected to a relentless series of disasters and life-threatening injuries at the hands of a mysterious psychopath. But who is it? And why? I won’t give the game away here, of course. Suffice it to say that someone is hell-bent on taking bloodthirsty revenge. “Vous allez tous mourir” read the words on a screen at the back of the stage.
There are too many catastrophic episodes to list here, despite the relative shortness of the play (around 70 minutes), but you can take it from me that lots of blood is spilt before the play reaches its end.
The play wouldn’t work without comedy. Horror and humor, serious and silly, play out side by side. The humor works because it is such a contrast and so unexpected. The opening lines of Dalida’s “Mourir Sur Scène,” for example, are recited as Régis prepares to fight his way out of a siege with the chainsaw. Or when Karin, on her way across the stage to grab a lifesaving serum, finds herself trapped in a glass cage and is forced into an impromptu Marcel Marceau mime routine. We are told she is a serious singer, then we hear a recording of her audition to join the company in which she farts a Christmas carol.
One reason why Ma Femme succeeds is that the incredible chain of events is made to seem credible. The audience is cleverly fooled into thinking that the main action of the play is real once the first play comes to an abrupt end.
Then there is the quality of the acting: each of the actors manages to elicit empathy from the audience, in particular Fanny Fezans as Karin. You believe their stories. Then there are the props and real-life action: the light really does crash down from the ceiling, and a live chainsaw really is switched on and wielded in front of the audience. You have no choice but to allow yourself to be taken over by events.
Not surprisingly, the audience at this off-the-wall show was young and bohemian. Ma Femme may be bloody, but it’s bloody funny, and something of a tonic at this rather gray time of year.