The enduring fascination with the case is fueled by ‘90s nostalgia and the feverish draw, much accelerated since 1994, of watching a celebrity behave badly. Social class, and its meaning, plays a part, too.
CHICAGO — Tonya Harding has a message for anyone who thinks she was in on the 1994 attack that injured her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.
“Get over it,” she said in 2014.
Nobody’s listening. In the 23 years since Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee — a crime that set off a media frenzy and became one of the biggest scandals in U.S. sports history — artists have revisited and re-imagined the incident in books, films, musicals and art. (Kerrigan went on to win the silver medal behind Oksana Baiul at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway; Harding did not receive a medal.)
The latest work to emerge from the saga is “T.,” a new play by Dan Aibel having its premiere at the American Theater Company in New York through June 25. The contemplative drama depicts Harding (Leah Raidt) as a brash young woman who, money-starved and working-class, competes in homemade outfits (not in Vera Wang, like Kerrigan), while trapped in a troubled marriage. (Her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, also a character in the play, eventually served time in prison for his role in planning the attack.)
Most Read Stories
- I-5’s Uncle Sam: 50 years and still ticked off near Chehalis
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Check out this new drone footage of the Bertha-dug Highway 99 tunnel WATCH
- Washington state’s new parental leave law could change workplace for moms — and dads
- Republicans going beyond hypocrisy with the national debt | Danny Westneat
Missing from “T.” is Kerrigan, who is only referred to as “Horseface.” But don’t cry for her: Kerrigan, now 47, recently competed on “Dancing With the Stars.” (Harding, now 46 and a mother, has mostly kept out of today’s spotlight, years after accepting a plea deal.)
The enduring fascination with the case is, of course, fueled by ‘90s nostalgia and the feverish draw, much accelerated since 1994, of watching a celebrity behave badly. But “T.” continues a long-standing conversation about Harding as a misunderstood, class-cornered dark horse to Kerrigan’s endorsement-deal princess.
Aibel said his play, like recent films about flashpoint ‘90s crimes (“O.J.: Made in America,” “Casting JonBenet”) tried to bring awareness to “issues of class and race and the extent to which they are determinative of life prospects,” while not “airbrushing the rough edges or the absurdity of the plan” to attack Kerrigan “and the brutality of it.”
“There’s something inherently theatrical about the juxtaposition of skating and violence, which was so intriguing to the country at the time,” said Aibel, who calls “T.” a “history play.”
“It’s an American story of people striving and trying to thread the needle of success,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a very classical arc.”
Whether they’re campy or cold sober, here’s a look at how other projects are rethinking, and have rethought, the real Harding.
“I, Tonya”: This biopic, set for release next year, will star Margot Robbie as Tonya, Caitlin Carver as Nancy and Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, LaVona Golden. Janney, who has described Golden as “one cruel bitch,” said on “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” that far from avoiding the project, Harding had “been in contact with the writer for the whole thing.” She added, “I think people will feel a lot more sympathy for her.
“The Price of Gold”: Part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, this 2014 documentary focuses mostly on the travails of Harding, who agreed to be interviewed. (Kerrigan did not.) Writing in The New York Times, the television critic Mike Hale called it a “crisp, smart, comprehensive account” that makes clear that “the Harding-Kerrigan story is as much about class and its resentments as it is about sports.” It’s available for streaming on Amazon.
“Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera”: This darkly comedic piece, with music by Michael Teoli and a book and lyrics by Elizabeth Searle, had its premiere in 2008 in Portland, Oregon, and has been mounted in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Searle said Harding herself attended a performance. “She got onstage, and said everyone here deserves a big applause,” Searle said. “We went out drinking with her at a pub, and she played video poker.” Searle is eyeing productions next year in Toronto and Washington.
“Tonya Harding: The Musical”:This flat-out comedy, written by Jesse Esparza, with songs by Manny Hagopian, was a 2014 hit at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. According to its creators, the Tonya depicted is tired of being “overshadowed by Little Miss Perfect Nancy Kerrigan and her marriage to sleazeball Jeff Gillooly.” Sample lyrics, sung by Gillooly: “Skating’s all about the dress, dress, dress/And how it punctuates your chest, chest, chest.”
The greeting card designer Taylor Hamilton said her cheeky artwork was meant to celebrate, not pick on, Harding. “She was an underdog,” said Hamilton, whose card company is called Tay Ham. “I know what she did was really bad, but she was supertalented, and she had a rough go of things.” Hamilton said the card is one of her best-sellers.
“Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan 1994”: Viviana Olen and Matt Harkins are the co-curators of this 30-piece collection of Tonya-and-Nancy-themed artworks and artifacts, which originally went on view in 2015 in the hallway of their apartment in New York. The duo’s new exhibition space, to open next month in Crown Heights, will feature cross-stitched portraits of the pair by the artists Rebecca and Josh Greco. “I’d say today people are much more Team Tonya,” Olen said. “Nancy had a raw deal, too. But Tonya was a rock star. She didn’t want to fit in the figure skating box.”