Xena Live! Review

by Alicia Gaspar de Alba

I attended the Preview showing at 11 pm on Saturday, 11/13/99, and, indeed, the house was full to the rafters. I was almost sitting inside the stage itself, but luckily, to the side, so that when sticks went flying from one of the many fight scenes, I wasn't in the line of fire. Sure hope the person who was didn't get a tooth knocked out.

The play is basically a "new" episode of Xena, complete with "in a time of ancient gods" prologue, disclaimer, and even (some of the funniest parts) commercials. In Episode One, titled "Double Your Pleasure," an evil Sorceress (played as an over-the top drag queen in "wicked witch" regalia by Bruch Reed) casts a spell on Xena and splits her into two people: the Warrior Xena (played by the Katherine Hepburn-voiced Alexandra Billings) and the Lover Xena (played by the she-could-pass-for-a-Xena-body-double Elizabeth Laidlaw). Gabrielle (played by the show's tight-abbed producer, Amy Matheny) is, at first, oblivious to the split, and can't figure out why sometimes all Xena wants to do is mooch and bring her flowers and why other times she's wanting to "kill 'em all!" The bumbling Joxer, the debonair Ares, the Valley girl Aphrodite, and the shrieking Callisto are very well cast, and the Ensemble, which includes raven-headed minions of the Sorceress, ominous beetle creature that are sucking the life force from the trees of the Ravens Wood, and a small band of Amazons in search of a sexy Queen, add to the production's comic effect. True to the show, there are several plots that will eventually all be resolved by episode's end, and other than the problem of the schizophrenic Xenas, there's a subplot about the fate of the forest that's being consumed by those strange beetles, and the fact that everyone seems to be after Gabrielle, though it's the new character "Muffy," a cross between a lusty muff-loving Amazon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who makes the most brazen of moves on the Amazon Queen. There are more fight scenes than love scenes in the show, however, and the two Xenas seem to have more chemistry between them than either one has with Gabrielle. The kiss, though, was wonderful, and the audience whooped it up bigtime. Ah, to watch those dark warrior lips on blonde bard lips at long last. I would venture to say that this is why RenPic and LL gave their consent to the production. Not only are the characters true to form, but also, they can give the subtext relief (similiar to "comic relief") that the fans so want to see without it involving either LL or ROC. The Billings Xena (Xena 1) is terrific with the sword and several times twirled it like a baton and caught it before it did any damage; the Laidlaw Xena (Xena 2) had Xena's moves down to a tee, and from the back (I was literally sitting two feet behind her) her poses looked exactly like Lucy Lawless's. (Parenthetical aside: notice the similarity in names between LaidLAW and LAWless.) As stated, the funniest parts of the production came during the "commercial breaks" spotlighting the corporate sponsors for the show, including Subaru, the Doubletree Guest Suites, a local gym, and a local restaurant featuring a tremulous and strawberrily-senile Katherine Hepburn. I won't give away the ending, other than to say it involves allusions to Snow White (the mirror) and The Wizard of Oz ("I'm melting"). The disclaimer: "No Xenas were harmed from splitting into two during this show but Gabrielle went home with a headache."

My partner, who is not a Xena fan, loved the show, but especially, historian that she is, the fact that About Face theater is inside the historic Hull House, which is one of the first women's settlement houses (early name for a woman's shelter, I believe) to be built in this country.

So, if ya'll wanna watch a good piece of alternative Xena fanfic come to life before your eyes while inside a historic feminist building, catch the next show.

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