by Joan Kane · March 22, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #65 Joan Kane comments on Beauty and the Beast Beauty and the Beast is a magical and titillating theatrical experience. Beauty is played by the American New York City based performance artist, a former Miss Coney Island, Julie Atlas Muz. Her Beast is her real life husband Mat Fraser, a disabled British actor. Together Fraser and Muz juxtapose the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast and their own love story creating one of the most exciting nights of theatre I have experienced in a long time. Brilliantly directed by the maverick director Phelim McDermott (Shockheaded Peter), the X-rated fairy tale includes burlesque, full frontal nudity, sexual positions, puppets, songs, dance, jokes, and the message to accept your inner beast.
The show starts with Fraser and Muz introducing themselves to the audience. Muz, dressed in a tight fitting sleek black dress describes that she is from “the murder capital of the world, Detroit.” Frasier bare-chested, describes that while she was pregnant with him, his mom, had, on the advice of her doctor, taken the drug Thalidomide. “...and thus I was brought into this world, with these small and perfectly deformed arms.” He has congenital phocomelia, seal-limbed, flipper-like arms where his elbows meet his wrists. Beauty and the Beast proceeds to tackle the topic of disability head on.
This story starts when Beauty is forced to live in the castle of the Beast due to a transgression that her father committed. The Beast and Beauty get to know and trust each other enjoying rich dinners on fine china. Beauty discovers by looking through a magic mirror that her father is ill. The Beast lets Beauty go to visit her father with the caution that he will die if she does not return within the week. She returns late, in time to see the life disappearing from the Beast. Her return saves the Beast and they live happily ever after. As this is being told, Fraser and Muz stop the fantasy story and directly address the audience, describing the progression of their trust and love for each other.
Vines of roses beautifully decorate the garden of the gothic castle set, designed by Phillip Eddolls. “Puppeteer slaves” Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones intertwine the real time and the fantasy story as they manipulate shadow puppets, becoming the arms of Fraser and making objects fly. They also assist with the dressing and undressing of Beauty and Beast’s risqué, decadent costumes designed by Kevin Pollard.
The shadow puppets are used to tell the back-story of the fairy tale. Just as I started to became engaged in that narrative, the actors broke out of those characters to tell their own modern day love story. The action stops and we are transported to the present day, the fourth wall is broken and the story of Fraser and Muz meeting is presented. Fraser tells us, “…I saw Julie do her act The Hand (in Dick Z. Zigun’s Burlesque at the Beach) I was transfixed by what she was doing because it wasn’t just ‘I’m sexy look at me’, she was doing something quite different, it was like a horror film, and I was hooked.” We go back and forth into, out of the fairy tale and as Beauty leaves the castle to visit her ailing father, the present day Julie tells of her frequent separations from Fraser (though married to her, he lives in London and she lives on the lower East Side) “Mat will get in a cab (to the airport) and I’ll wave and I’ll chase the cab…”
This explicit retelling of the classic fairy tale is an inventive metaphor for how our society views physical deformities.