The 1987 movie “Fatal Attraction” was called many things — psychological thriller, box office smash, misogynist trash — but no one described it as dreary. But that’s the word that best describes the slow grind of James Dearden’s clunky, feel-bad stage version of his own screenplay, laboriously helmed by Trevor Nunn. An unusually small percentage of the partisan opening-night crowd leapt to their feet at the curtain call; to suggest that the production will not cause a box office stampede is something of an understatement.
Dearden’s interesting motive for returning to the material was spelt out in his recent lengthy newspaper article, in which he let it be known that, following test screenings, the controversial movie ending was forced upon him by the studio. This stage version would, he suggested, redress that wrong and rebalance sympathies. If only.
“She’s trying to destroy me.” So cries pent-up Mark Bazeley in the Michael Douglas role of Dan, the married lawyer now desperately regretting his adulterous weekend with single white female Alex (Natascha McElhone). This strained sequence, which actually comes two-thirds of the way through the infamous plot, is used to open the show in an attempt to up the dramatic stakes. From there, everything flashes back to the beginning of the otherwise chronologically told tale.
Instead of reimagining the material into new theatrical shape, Dearden mostly follows the trajectory of his screenplay. Dull, evenly paced expository scenes, which merely parcel out pieces of information and character (his work colleague = sympathetic, his daughter = cute), are interspersed with doomy bass sound effects and portentous chunks of Dan’s voiceover and downstage addresses to the audience as Robert Jones’ neat, sleek sets are changed behind him. The aim is for Raymond Chandler-style, hard-bitten wisdom, but lines like “We all think we’re masters of our destiny but it’s really all a crapshoot “ or “Hate and fear: We only really hate what we fear” fall short.
Updating the story to the present adds stalking via cell phone, but having characters speak to technology rather than to each other only further deflates the atmosphere. Out, too, go the unstageable action sequences — including, oddly, the high-octane sex. Nunn clearly wants details of their hot couplings to ferment in his audiences’ imaginations, but deprived of everything but a glimpse of the passion that coursed between them, it’s hard to sympathize with either character’s behavior. And since we don’t care about them, the evening is leeched of tension.
Dearden adds welcome self-laceration to Dan’s monologues, but this doesn’t solve the overwhelming misogyny problem. McElhone’s Alex teases and stalks her prey with panther-like pawing of her territory, but her escalating, absurd demands remain deranged.
Even the long-awaited bunny-boiling scene is bungled. Dan’s daughter (Sophia Petit, at the performance reviewed) immediately screams in terror (why?) when she sees her brand-new pet rabbit is not in its cage. Almost simultaneously, Kristin Davis screams as she opens the boiling saucepan. The split focus smudges what should be a climax. Equally oddly for so experienced a team, the fight direction of what should be the explosive final tussle between Alex and Dan is, aside from the first well-timed face slap, physically unconvincing.
The movie climax had Dan’s wife Beth shooting Alex dead. That’s now gone, leaving Kristin Davis little to do in her U.K. stage debut but play mother, be meek and misled. In its place comes a long-term piece of revenge by Alex which elicits some very poorly directed police procedural scenes and an overworked staging of Alex’s love of “Madama Butterfly.” The latter is a vainglorious attempt at tragedy that, like the rest of this high-profile, low-achieving evening, falls far short of drama.