"The Play's The Thing"
by Michelle Erica Green

A Little Piece of Greece

"The Play's The Thing" Plot Summary:

Realizing that she has lost one of her scrolls chronicling the growth of her relationship with Xena, Gabrielle rushes back to Piraeus to retrieve it while Xena goes on to Archon. In the town, Gabrielle discovers that she dropped the scroll in the little girl's outhouse, where it was found by a theater producer who was deeply moved by it and wants to see it staged. Given her great admiration for Sophocles and her secret yen to be on the Great Appian Way, Gabrielle decides that her play could teach people about peace and love, so she agrees.

Unfortunately there are a few complications: not only is the Apollo Theater a dump, as the visiting Joxer points out, but producer Zira is really an unscrupulous woman with a plan to produce a play guaranteed to fail: that way, she can make off with all the money from the investors, most of whom have bought more-than-majority shares in the profits if there are any (which Zira is determined to make certain there are not). Zira suggests that Gabrielle make Joxer her assistant and permits the bard to cast herself in her own role in the play, since Gabrielle can't find a satisfactory substitute; there isn't really a good Xena auditioning either, but Gabrielle settles for a lousy actress who's a great gymnast. Xena wanna-be Minya turns up to audition as well, but Gabrielle convinces her to play a villain with a straw beard.

After a bad rehearsal where Gabrielle overacts her own part and "Xena" does a poor job threatening a warlord, Joxer suggests that the play might need a new title - "Springtime For Warlords" - as well as skimpier costumes and more blood. Gabrielle is initially resistant, preaching her artistic integrity, but when she discovers that Sophocles' new play will open on the same night as her own - and that HIS play includes dancing girls popping out of a cake while warlords hack one another's heads off - she announces that her message means nothing if no one hears it. Her demands for more blood, skin, and weapons concern Zira, especially since they require a bigger budget. But the warlord Cleon is in town, and Zira convinces him that if he invests in the play, he can use Gabrielle and the play as a means of getting to the real Xena, whom he despises.

The dress rehearsal is hugely popular with all the warlord investors, which concerns Zira. She convices Gabrielle that the play will be a smash with armies who need inspiration to go marauding off to battle. A guilt-ridden Gabrielle insists that they cut out the hot tub scene to return to her initial message of love and peace. But Cleon has already caught on to Zira's scheme, and on opening night, he clobbers Joxer onstage, then kidnaps Gabrielle. When the real Xena arrives, he mistakes her for her double, declaring that she's not even a good actress. Xena, who had seen the playbill in Archon, recognized the name of Zira - the Queen of Cons - and knew there would be trouble. While she clobbers all the warlords, inadvertently stringing Joxer up on the ropes, Gabrielle declares the piece an interactive theater performance to enlist the audience's help in trapping Zira.

Despite Criticus of Varietus' complaint that Xena's not as believable as Buffus the Bacchae Slayer, the audience gives her chakram action a standing ovation. Minya thanks Xena and Gabrielle for pairing her up with the actress who played Xena, who has made her realize something about herself which she kept hidden deep down inside: she's a thespian. "Did she say thespian?" Gabrielle asks Xena. "That's what she said," Xena agrees. The two walk off together while Joxer - still strung up inside the now-dark theater - threatens to tell his brother on them.


It's not quite as funny as The Producers, Mel Brooks' hysterical source material for "The Play's The Thing," but this is still probably my favorite comedic episode of Xena. Like "Yes, Virginia, There Really Is a Hercules," the producers have a great time laughing at their own excesses - dramatic dialogue like "Xena, oh mighty princess forged in the heat of battle," Gabrielle's overacting on the declarations of peace, critical comments like, "The power! The passion! The danger!", as well as a terrible subtext joke in an onstage hot tub where the play's Xena declares, "I'm so wet!" The conclusion, with the two wanna-be-Xenas running off together, was quite sweet - and the final joke, with Ted Raimi's Joxer ranting about tattling as Sam Raimi's name appeared on screen, was the perfect note to end on.

This is the sort of Xena humor I like best, not stupid fish jokes. Joxer asks Gabrielle what in heck she's wearing, she says "Sari," he says, "Don't apologize, you look great!" Ridiculous history (Sophocles alive in the time of Caesar and writing smut), silly crossover jokes (the Apollo Theater, centaur actor Dustus Hoffmanus), terrible stage parodies of blood and beheadings...all taking underlying cracks at the very industry this series is a part of (the killings, the skimpy costumes, the titillating references to Xena's probable lesbianism). I can't wait to see the inevitable romance between Zira and Autolycus, both of whom are delightful "villains" with much better senses of humor than the usual idiot warlords. Brava.

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