Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bitchslap! Written by Darrin Hagen

L-R Michael Taylor Gray, Therese McLaughlin, C. Stephen Foster - Chris Hume -
By Joe Straw

Bette Davis slapped a lot of people in her movies.  There are too many to count in a video-montage sendup at the beginning of Bitchslap! This production, wonderfully written by Darrin Hagen and beautifully directed by Odalys Nanin, is playing at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood.

Maybe that was the thing to do in the old Warner Bros. movies. If you couldn’t find a mental action, try a physical one.  And if you don’t know what to do with your hands, slap something: man, woman, or beast. And generally, they were all beasts!

One could almost imagine the scenarios.  Mr. Director; I think this would be a good moment to slap him, or, slapping him would elevate the scene, or, if I slapped her during her ridiculous banter she could see how serious I am, or, you slap me again mate and I’m going to head-butt you.  

Joan Crawford (Michael Taylor Gray) and Bette Davis (C. Stephen Foster) have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood, the studio moguls, with each other, and with the press.  Well, maybe not all of the press.  They both love Hedda Hopper (Therese McLaughlin) who makes it a point to keep their names splashed in the yellow rags they called the newspapers.

Bitchslap! is a glorious instant flashbulb re-creation of an era that captures the significant moments in the press-filled lives of both Davis and Crawford.  

Bette Davis, nominated for eight Academy Awards, was all about character and noted for being “the actress” a serious actress.   

"The best boy? I'll be the judge of that." - Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford was celebrated for her “glamour puss” face.  She was also inclined to hop from bed to bed with the frequency of an amorous house cat for the sake of furthering her career.  Hollywood legend has her charming everyone, men and women alike, each wanting to lay claim to a Hollywood legend.  Joan is no wallflower, she speaks of her conquests, narrating lists the people she has slept with, right there, on stage.  It is a long and glorious list and seems to go on ad infinitum.  

We also get a glimpse of Crawford’s list of do’s and don’t.  “Rules for dating me.”, which includes, pulling out “my” chair while dining out, focusing your eyes on “me” while “I’m” eating and always be on the left side of “me” when “I’m” being photographed. There is a lot of “me”, “me”, “me” in her do’s and don’t list.

The battle seems to begin when Bette Davis wins an Oscar for her role in Dangerous sitting next to co-star, Franchot Tone.  Tone is Joan Crawford’s husband. Joan Crawford stole Tone away from Davis and married him before Davis knew what had happened.

Davis was, in fact, in love with Tone.

Davis, not expecting an Oscar win, wore a plain dress for the occasion. After the announcement Tone, jumps up and hugs Davis for her win.  Crawford looks to Davis and acidly congratulates her with the comment “What a lovely frock.”

Davis steams.

"You can lead a whore to culture.  But you can't make her think."  - Bette Davis 

After the Oscar win, Davis asks Jack Warner for more money but he won’t budge. Davis sues the company and loses. But she gets her just reward by being at the top of the favorite actress list and winning another Oscar in 1938 for Jezebel.

In 1940’s, Betty Davis is the star and Joan Crawford, previously the star at the MGM studios, is now box-office poison.  Crawford wants out of her contract and she is released to, of all places, Better Davis’s home, Warner Brothers. And to make things a little cozier Joan Crawford pitches her tent next to Davis.

While Crawford is on the Warner Brothers lot she wins an Oscar for Mildred Pierce.

"Your tear glands must be connected to your bladder." - Bette Davis

The battle is on!

But, it is a short-lived battle as the careers of both starts to wane.  Davis heads to New York to star in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana to stretch her acting wings. Joan Crawford visits her backstage and tells her about the book, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Crawford argues that it will serve as the perfect comeback for the both of them.

Davis agrees to do the film and the fight is on.

Odalys Nanin has produced and directed a truly remarkable funfest. It was fun for the actors, and fun for the audience as well. It is one of those plays that you can leave your troubles at home and come to the theatre to watch two female characters snatch each other bald headed.  And they go at each other with the filming of Baby Jane.

L-R C. Stephen Foster, Therese McLaughlin, Michael Taylor - Joel Turrisi - Photo 

C. Stephen Foster as Bette Davis is remarkable and does a great impersonation.  True to her nature, she stays in character throughout while her counterpart breaks the fourth wall.  Foster has great comic timing.  This is a marvelous performance, funny, and wickedly charming.   And the fascinating thing about Foster’s performance is watching Davis as an “actress” who is constantly working on her craft. She is able to listen as well as take ideas. That’s what makes Foster’s work fascinating to watch. It takes a lot of acting chops to recognize this and to perform it as well.  Also, Foster is the author of the book, Awakening The Actor Within.  Please look for it at www.awakeningtheactorwithin.com

Michael Taylor Gray is equally funny as Joan Crawford. As the character, Crawford is definitely the personality and not the actress. She is always so exquisitely polite to her fans, always late, and so immaculately dressed with shoulders pads out to “there” but try as she might she doesn’t quite have the acting chops of her competitor and co-star. The things she does to get ready for a scene are really funny, particularly when she is in shadow against a blue backdrop in the scenes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?   Another comical aspect is when Crawford, on numerous occasions, breaks the fourth wall to make her point with an audience member. It is a connect with the audience which you don’t see often and it is hilarious!

Therese McLaughlin as Hedda Hopper is wonderful as well. In character, she keeps us up to date with the goings on of these two stars.  But McLaughlin is remarkable in what she does on stage to keeps the two civil toward each other and to maintain good relationships with both. There is also a wonderful scene where Hedda has had enough and she wants the low-down on the movie and will not take no for an answer. She wants the truth and will not let go.  It is a remarkable scene by an equally remarkable actor.  

Jeanne Carr, the Hedda Hopper alternate, did not perform on this night.

There are a lot of remarkable things in Darrin Hagen’s play. It is a laugh fest from beginning to end. Drawing quotes from these two must have been a pleasing exercise.  

The lights and set is by John Toom.  The stage manager is Carey Dunn. And the publicist is Nora Feldman.

Run and take an actor who has been bitch slapped too many times to count.

Extented, once again, through July 15, 2012

Reservations:  323-960-7724

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