'Kittens in a Cage' unleashes caustic prison parody
Annex Theatre's premier production of "Kittens in a Cage" offers an unmoored and funny parody of a particular brand of cheap B movies.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Kittens in a Cage"By Kelleen Conway Blanchard, through Aug. 25 at Annex Theatre, 110 E. Pike St., Seattle; $5-$15 (206-728-0933 or www.acttheatre.org).
By the time Annex Theatre's premiere production of "Kittens in a Cage" ends with a demented song-and-dance number set to a Spanish translation of one of Elvis Presley's biggest hits, one might wonder how the show arrived from its opening premise — a parody of women's prison movies — to a state of unmoored, if funny, madness.
But what could be nuttier in the first place than that familiar exploitation cinema genre?
From the 1930s through at least the 1980s (some of us have stopped noticing since then), cheap B-movies about bad girls locked up in a hoosegow hothouse of sadism, female violence, lesbian sex and sexual extortion have titillated fans and provided pop culture fodder for critics.
"Kittens in a Cage," written by Kelleen Conway Blanchard and directed by Bret Fetzer, embraces the form as ripe for satire and, in doing so, undercuts its lurid power as a fantasy of abuse and victimization.
A strong, talented all-female cast takes on, with admirable gusto, such brand staples as a shower scene ending in bloodshed, a running battle between alpha-convicts, a monstrous prison matron (Lisa Viertel) and her sycophant, a pathological guard (Katie Driscoll).
Much of the show's caustic humor comes from juxtaposing relative innocence with relative guilt (a typical element from the films, lampooned here).
Francesca Mondelli gets the balance right as a garrulous, wide-eyed new inmate who might be cute but hints at unspeakable deeds.
Laurel Ryan and Tracy Leigh are dynamos of pure appeal and homicidal impulse, and Erin Pike is a huge plus as a nonspeaking cannibal with tiny traces of humanity.
Thankfully, "Kittens" never veers into camp, ultimately shedding genre conventions and getting some mixed results with outright lunacy.
Perhaps Blanchard could have offered a little more, in her ironic but meaningful fashion, about the appeal of cult entertainment with a high degradation factor.
But there's something to be said for just seeing this cast take the material and run with it.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com