XENA LIVE!, About Face Theatre and Greasy Joan & Company. The premise sounds like a recipe for a late-night hit: translate a popular, campy TV series, Xena: Warrior Princess, to the stage. The fact that Xena is packed with sly wit and plenty of hidden (and not so hidden) eroticism–including a possible lesbian relationship between Xena and her sweet sidekick Gabrielle–would seem to guarantee such a show’s success.
But unfortunately Chicago playwright Claudia Allen hasn’t done well by the TV series in this authorized stage version. Best known for her serious work, Allen just isn’t very adept at imitating the series’ heady mix of dry wit, low comedy, and engaging storytelling. Nor does the story she weaves–about Xena being split into two Xenas, the lover and the fighter–come close to the mind-bending eclecticism of the series, which routinely lifts gods and myths from dozens of unrelated cultures and plops them into Xena’s tale.
Director Scott Ferguson tries to compensate by packing the show with lots of terrific fight choreography (by David Woolley) and a pretty good cast. Elizabeth Laidlaw is especially fine as the “good” Xena, but Alexandra Billings is less satisfying as the “bad” Xena, indulging in lots of her trademark scenery chewing. The show really belongs to Amy Matheny, however: her perfect imitation of Gabrielle is hilarious. –Jack Helbig