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Sex Meets Outer Space on Vienna Stage

DW Staff (jam)
March 15, 2004

Barbarella -- buxom and barely clad -- has returned to save the oppressed from the evil Black Queen. A stage version in Vienna of the '60s cult film starring Jane Fonda is introducing a new generation to space kitsch.

Nina Proll takes up where Jane Fonda left off.Image: AP

In the film, the high camp got going during the opening credits. Barbarella, space vixen extraordinaire, teases herself out of her space suit in zero gravity, accompanied by a trippy Sixties soundtrack.

It only gets better.

Jane Fonda in Barbarella
Actress Jane Fonda in the original "Barbarella"Image: AP

Born originally in a French comic strip in 1962, the celluloid Barbarella, played by a 31-year-old Fonda (photo), embarks on a 41st century crusade to save the universe from the evil of renegade scientist Dr. Duran Duran (who presumably gave the pop group its name), while facing kink-laced tortures that generally involved the removal of several parts of her already barely-there outfits.

There were the budgies that almost pecked her to death, the lake of pure evil that looks suspiciously like a lava lamp, and the sensual machine, a piano-like contraption that kills by inducing an endless chain of orgasms. Barbarella survives them all; she actually looks like she doesn't mind some of her torments that much.

Now, 35 years later, the sex-laced sci-fi tale has hit the Vienna stage. The Raimund Theater has mounted a retelling, which opened last week, bringing back the heaving busoms, the blond locks, and the skin-tight costumes of the original. Billed as the "sexy space musical," Barbarella illustrates that the camp aesthetic hasn't changed all that much in more than three decades.

Virtual sex

The story has, though, been slightly altered in keeping with the times.

Barbarella, played by Austrian actress Nina Proll, has lost her crew to virtual reality, and can't get them back. She embarks on a rescue mission and lets herself be transported to the virtual planet of Sogo, a place teeming with dangers and muscled biceps.

Barbarella, Uraufführung in Wien
Eva Maria Marold is the Black Queen.Image: AP

Sogo is ruled by the evil Black Queen (photo), played with grimacing bravura by Eva Maria Marold. Barbarella must find a way to unseat her antagonist, looking very much the dominatrix in her thigh-high black boots.

The blonde heroine undergoes various sexcapades to accomplish her mission--sleeping with a robot to get information, cozying up close to her muscular guardian angel, then even engaging in a tryst with the Queen herself.

The producers have thrown in something for just about everyone's taste.

Big names

The production has some well-known figures behind it. The elaborate, creative--and often scanty--costumes were designed by David Dalrymple and Patricia Field, who outfit the clotheshorses on the hit U.S. television show "Sex and the City." Stage designer Mark Fisher, who has created backdrops for Rolling Stones concerts, creates an on-stage world that sparkles and glitters as camp sci-fi should. Dave Stewart, of the 80's pop group Eurhythmics, composed the score.

Despite the glitz and glam though, some critics wonder if this production will live beyond the initial flash from all the sequined lycra on stage. Some have faulted American director and choreographer Kim Duddy, who staged a successful production of Hair, for playing it too straight, and not taking advantage of the material to create a candy-colored parody of Utopian visions from the sixties, or staging a acid-fueled send-up of an age of innocence that has long-since passed.

But perhaps Barbarella's shiny surfaces are all it needs, and delving deeper would just mar its finish. After all, it offers theater goers a near overdose of sexed-up eye candy topped with a liberal sprinkling of over-the-top camp. It's one long, rich dessert, and besides, you can brush your teeth later.