Heaving Bosoms in Cellblock Three!
The Femme-sploitation Prison Satire of Kittens in a Cage
Let's start with full disclosure: This show is rich with Stranger conflicts of interest. Playwright Kelleen Conway Blanchard wrote a piece for this year's Queer Issue, the (gorgeous, frameable) poster was drawn by 2012 Genius shortlister Ellen Forney, director Bret Fetzer used to write for The Stranger, and our current theater intern, Erin Pike, is one of the actors. And oh, yeah—Annex Theater is right across the street.
Sorry, two-block-radius haters, but Kittens in a Cage is a fucking riot.
Kittens takes on women's-prison B movies and pulp novels with biting wit—no worries about offending anyone—and a gorgeous splatter of comically short prison uniforms (top buttons undone), smeared red lipstick, bright blue eye shadow, bouffant hairdos, and crazy accents. Junie (Francesca Mondelli), a young, innocent-seeming inmate, quickly befriends tough-girl Vicki (Laurel Ryan) and tries to stay clear of queen bitch Jeanine (Tracy Leigh)—she of the tallest hair and most prominent tits. Jeanine's sidekick, Barbara (Pike), wears a deranged, vacant expression and never speaks. "After she ate all them Girl Scouts, she ate her own tongue, too," Jeanine drawls in explanation. The script is punctuated with matter-of-fact references to the women's crimes, always delivered straight-faced for full effect: "I knew the baby killer wouldn't've done her in! The baby killer loves everybody. Except babies."
This wicked, uproarious show features an all-female cast—not impossibly rare, but not common enough. Bosoms heave, brains leak out of heads, and women make out. Blanchard seems fully aware and in control while she wades into the muck of exploitation entertainment, with a wink and a nod (and a shiv) to its complicated history of empowerment. The actors make the most of their archetypes, exaggerating facial expressions, smashing their boobs around, and fighting fiercely across tables and shower stalls. Blanchard has also woven in a helplessly funny repeating gag where the female prisoners go spelunking, sometimes elbow-deep, up their own vaginas to pull out contraband. Pike is the best offender here, her long limbs contorting and straining—at one point, she sits on the toilet, extracts two tap shoes from between her legs, and begins practicing a tap-dance routine for the prison talent show.
Kittens also maintains an undercurrent of sharp satire, as the evil matron and dopey-but-abusive prison guard embody the absurdity and oppressiveness of prison systems. (For example, the pair runs sadistic science experiments on poorly behaved inmates.) Kittens in a Cage is mostly fun, but it delivers a few smart, subversive jabs at real issues. And don't forget to try the cocktail special, a Shanked in the Shower. It's red.