Dallas — In a strange coincidence, Migdalia Cruz’s Fur is the second show I’ve reviewed for TheaterJones involving a hirsute female sideshow attraction, the first being Amphibian Stage Productions’ 2018 interactive piece Eye of the Beholder about “the ugliest woman in the world,” Julia Pastrana. What’re the odds? But even if they share some common ground, the sickly, darkly comedic love (?) story at the heart of Fur feels worlds apart from the more prosaic tragedy of Pastrana’s life. Directed by Artistic Director Sorany Gutierrez, Teatro Dallas’s production showcases a riveting performance by its lead actress, Lindsay Hayward, who drives the audience from revulsion to attraction and back again as the play plunges toward its bloody and inevitable conclusion, though the decision to strip some of the original dystopian elements from the piece leaves it feeling untethered.
In the back of a pet store is a cage. And in that cage lounges Citrona (Hayward), a woman covered in a wild pelt of fur and gnawing on rabbit bones, warbling the occasional Beatles song. How did she come to be there? Pet store owner Michael (Isaiah Cazares), who has an erotic fascination with furry things, purchased Citrona from her mother with an eye toward marrying her. He woos her with promises of freeing her once they’re married, chastising her for her ungratefulness in not loving him: after all, hasn’t he built her the biggest cage she’s ever had? But Citrona’s inclinations run in a different direction; all her pent up love and lust is directed at beautiful Nena (Courtney Mentzel), who Michael hires to trap rabbits for Citrona and clean her cage. It’s an uphill battle for Citrona; even disregarding her own physical disadvantages, Nena seemingly heterosexual, and she’s pathetically in love with Michael, who only has eyes for Citrona. You know, the classic love triangle. The parallel obsessions between the three deepen as they spiral around one another. It can’t end well, and doesn’t—the question is will everyone make it out alive in the end?
Provocative, beastly, sensual, witty, innocent, monstrous: all these qualities and more are required of the play’s lead, and Lindsay Hayward manages to simultaneously embody them all. Clothed in a brilliantly designed (kudos to costume designer Kristin Colaneri) flesh-toned body suit patched with fishnet and strategically placed fur, Hayward’s Citrona is almost always the one in control at any even moment, even from within a cage. Within a single scene she’ll crouch like a beast, languidly devouring a dead rabbit, then hang provocatively from the bars of her cage like a stripper on a pole and throwing out Mae West-style zingers, transitioning smoothly from one to the other. While early on she registers her disinterest in Cazares’ Michael by attempting to disgust him with her smell and unkempt appearance, she melts into earnestness when trying to win over Mentzel’s Nena, gushing poetically about her manifold graces. It’s a demanding performance, both physically and emotionally, and Hayward delivers on all counts.
Cazares’ Michael is more of a cipher; only in snippets do we get a glimpse of a violent childhood and a trauma that may have sparked his fetish for animals. Cazares does well conveying the character’s creep factor—he has a preternatural stillness that is quite disturbing and a psychopath’s conviction of his own righteousness—but may not delve quite as deeply into the character’s dark side as he could. Mentzel’s Nena is an even more unknown quantity; she is defined almost entirely by her feelings toward Michael at the play’s inception, and only gradually do we see that Citrona’s unwavering devotion feeds a part of her starving for affection. She slowly follows the path of the beasts she traps: moving closer toward the hunter day by day, eventually eating out of their hand before feeling the grip around her neck. Mentzel has some lovely comic moments—and some excellent puppetry work—with some trapped rabbits at the beginning of the show, and does a creditable job conveying the character’s conflicted feelings toward Citrona.
Migdalia Cruz’s work has certain consistent themes: ugliness transformed into beauty (and vice versa), love, sex, violence—all on display here. There’s almost too much to unpack: Christian iconography, racial elements (there’s a preoccupation with whiteness that is suggestive), fairy tale elements (who is the Beauty and who is the Beast?), toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement, and an element of surveillance suggesting a comment on the situation on our southern border. However, the original productions of the piece set it tangibly in a post-war, dystopian future, an element that’s merely suggested rather than emphasized by this production. The surrealistic elements of the piece would be elevated by offering context; as it is, the audience is left to assume the action may well be taking place in the world as it is, which I believe detracts from the original intent of the piece of creating a realm where the rules are self-dictated and reality is what we make it.
The production design by Nick Brethauer is simple, but effective—there are only a few elements onstage, but they are moved around in a way that suggests a larger world. The technological elements are more hit and miss; screens on either side of the stage show images suggestive of sideshows, time passing, etc., but don’t really add to the production’s atmosphere in any useful way. A black-and-white dream sequence, with some DNA owing to telenovela style, is stylish and slickly produced, but again doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. Images from a camera mounted in Citrona’s cage are a more interesting element, not only offering an alternative angle on the action, and a sense of how Citrona’s imprisonment must feel from the inside, but also reinforces Michael’s sense of ownership and entitlement towards Citrona.
While Julia Pastrana of Amphibian’s production, the so-called “hairy woman” of the real world moved from owner to owner, marrying her manager and eventually dying in childbirth, only to have her autopsy marketed as a show to the public and her corpse mummified and exhibited around the world, Fur’s Citrona has an agency Julia could only dream of, even from behind bars. Teatro Dallas’ production is at turns funny and gruesome—but the one thing you’ll never say it was is dull.
» Read our interview with the director and the cast members
» Read our interview with Teatro Dallas' new Executive Director, Sara Cardona