KPBS AIRDATE: March 3, 1993
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant are shed over another woman. In this stage version of the 1972 film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Petra is a fashion designer who becomes obsessed with a young model.
When the German film had its American premiere, there was a negative outcry from radical segments of the gay and lesbian community. Fassbinder was often controversial. In the sixties and seventies, when gay themes weren’t fashionable but he was, Fassbinder dealt openly with homosexuality in his films. He frequently had a rather despairing take on the state of the society.
Locally upgraded and updated, the play has moved from Germany to L.A., with contemporary references — like Bon Jovi, of all things. Petra’s house is a three-leveled mélange of modern, romantic and deco. It’s the most fully realized set I’ve seen at Diversionary Theatre. Kudos to Linda Gilbreath. The whole production has a higher level of professionalism. Much of the credit for that goes to lead actress Linda Castro, who always brings a tensile, sensual energy to her performances.
Here she is the titular Petra, a successful fashion designer who’s been around the block a few times and is getting a trifle long in the tooth, to coin a few clichés. She is surrounded by shallowness — including her own. Then in walks Karin, a pretty young blonde who’s been recently orphaned. Petra takes her in and vows to make her a modeling star. Petra becomes obsessed. Karin is lazy, blasé, bisexual. Petra hangs on desperately. Her agonized, bitter-tear scenes are interminable. She says the same things over and over, while cursing and abusing her lover, her mother, her daughter, her friends and her silent but adoring secretary.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all these obsessive relationships, which began with “Basic Instinct” and moved on to “Damage.” But since there’s such a spate of these stories, the timing must be right for “Bitter Tears.” Too bad it’s so redundant. And that it doesn’t really go anywhere. But it’s a great showcase for Castro, an actress who should be far busier. And the rest of the six-member cast, though not quite Castro’s caliber, does well under Lois Miller’s direction. These are not very appealing or likable women, and that’s about as far as the current-day controversy might go.
But the production is appealing. Diversionary deserves note as one of San Diego’s off-the-main-path, specialty theaters. Focusing on gay and lesbian issues, the company is always searching for something pointed to say. This piece is not profound, but it’s well produced and well worth a look.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.