Scripted and Produced by Jade Sylvan
Created, Directed, Choreographed and Produced by Fem Bones
Music by Catherine Capozzi
Review by Noelani Kamelamela
(Cambridge, MA) Back in 2012, a Kickstarter campaign funded quite a bit of Fem Bones’ Revenge of the Battle Robot Nuns, a sci-fantastical burlesque show birthed by the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts, possibly New England’s only horror burlesque troupe. Spider Cult: The Musical is a spin-off set in the same universe and it retains quite a lot of the slashes of the macabre and deviant sexuality that made Revenge so memorable. Initially, Jade Sylvan pitched Scout’s story to Fem Bones as a spin-off movie after seeing Revenge. Jade was enamoured of Revenge because the action reminded them of discovering weirdness and sexuality for the first time as a queer individual. Instead of creating a movie, Jade banged out a script for a live show which gets translated by the indomitable Fem Bones and the Slaughterhouse Sweeties with special guests onto the Oberon stage this Friday and Sunday for one weekend only. Fans and other supporters of fringe theatre stepped up via Kickstarter yet again to fund the first reading as well as the creation of the show.
When we talk about lack of diversity in the theatre and the greater arts community of Boston, many of the same issues that plagued the area ten years ago are still in play: much of what gets fully funded is homogenous, white-washed, and family friendly. This is ludicrous. Beloved television shows such as original serials American Horror Story or continuations of well known horror films such as Bates Motel are gaining critical acclaim and making artistic statements beyond the genre. Honestly, people do want to see Suicide Girls and frequently in states of undress. Those of us who have been paying attention to theatre in Boston are horrified that not only is reviewing the arts becoming more and more nonexistent,* but that performers and writers have to move away from Boston in order to make it onto a larger stage or get work produced here.** I am apoplectic about these two facts: new, uniquely Bostonian works and artists from the Boston area have clearly drawn the short straw. Yet somehow this group has managed to produce a spectacle filled with sound, fury and feminist rage.
I was fortunate enough to get into a small preview earlier this week. The original music, composed by Catherine Capozzi, tears into grindhouse rock, adhering to metal with a few loving ballads. The occasionally sweet and saccharine romance between Scout and Blondie coupled with a messed up family backstory provide entry points into the seductive mayhem of the Spider Cult. The audience can enjoy living inside a campy sci-fi frolic filled with luscious ladies to gaze upon, when expectations flip. By the time the Spider Cult is fully revealed, first blood is followed by a veritable flood. And yes, do not wear clothing that can’t stand up to red splatter, I hear black or blood red is good for that kind of thing. The choreography for soloists is both technical and sensuous. The group numbers, particularly for the Cult itself, highlight each individual character while pushing the story along. Stage combat as well as some of the gorier scenes reminded me of the attitude in Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill!
Popular female archetypes related to the Madonna-Whore complex such as the Femme Fatale, the Damsel in Distress and the Proper Lady get embodied fully by the cast before they start getting down to disemboweling. The female powered bloodbath is the heart of the Cult experience and about when the musical really commits to a joyfully mad apocalyptic spiral. They cast perfectly for the roles that I got to see: I am sad that I didn’t get to watch the entire musical, but from what I’ve witnessed it’s all in the executions.
When asked about whether portraying violence alongside eroticism is damaging given recent events such as the Stanford rapist’s sentencing, Jade Sylvan did mention that they hope the audience will be able to appreciate the intentions and messaging behind the show. “Spider Cult” should be an interesting addition to an ongoing conversation the public is having regarding power, agency and sexuality, not just a single provocative statement. Escapist fantasy that explores the extremes of misogyny are frequently portrayed in video games and movies as if they were absolute truth. Something this trashy and fun has a right to exist in the same world where one can be exposed to a commercial or advertisement for Grand Theft Auto or Fifty Shades of Grey.
There are other revolutionary things to know about Spider Cult which probably shouldn’t be revolutionary in 2016. There is more than just one person of color included in this relatively small cast. More than two female performers get to be on stage together as performers. Members of the production staff identify as queer or queer allies. Each artist is multi-talented and probably pulling double, triple or quadruple duty. Much of this show is uniquely Boston: unapologetically queer or queer-friendly, internet enabled and ready to party. The real shame is that this isn’t being done on a bigger stage.
*https://evolvingcritic.net/2016/06/15/in-a-blow-to-the-boston-arts-scene-the-boston-globe-cuts-back-on-its-arts-reporting/ ← The Boston Globe, which was reporting less and less on the arts anyway, or at least less than free rags such as the Boston Dig or the metro (the metro! WTF), cuts back even more.
**https://www.netheatregeek.com/2015/08/21/fan-service-omitted-waitress-a-new-musical/#more-2379 ← Finally, we can reference ourselves: Kitty Drexel “None of the actors (performing at the A.R.T.) are local. Graduates of the A.R.T. Institute must move to NYC in order to get cast in their productions.”
Added by the Queen – The actors at Club Oberon are frequently local. Oberon doesn’t have a Tony; the A.R.T. does. One cannot say that it’s a fair trade. It sure as Titania isn’t.