Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Roxy Theatre Performance Series: "BitchSlap!"

After reading numerous interviews with the stars of BitchSlap!, I was more excited than ever to see the show. So on Saturday night, Dickson and I joined a near full house at the Roxy Theatre for a remount of the 2005 Fringe hit. From the website:

"Joan Crawford (The Movie Star) and Bette Davis (The Actress): the ultimate Screen Goddesses. Too bad they hated each other so much! In this real-life showbiz feud, Crawford and Davis battle royally (like Queens) over roles, top billing, Oscars and MEN."

Reading the brief history of the women as told in the program before the show began really helped anchor the story for me, but I'm certain I would have understood even more of the references if I was actually familiar with the actresses and their work (I kept wondering whether Davis actually spoke with such punctuated silences, or if Crawford was so appreciative of her fans). Still, a lack of prior background knowledge didn't infringe on a general enjoyment of the play, as there were enough puns and zingers (Trevor Schmidt, as Davis, got to deliver most of them, "[Crawford]'s slept with every man at MGM except Lassie" or "You can lead a whore to culture but cannot teach them to think") among other comedic funniness to keep me entertained.

The acting was first rate - there was an undeniable chemistry between Schmidt and Darrin Hagen (as Crawford), but more than that, the two actors seemed to be having the time of their lives sparring and one-upping the other. Their scenes together were undoubtedly the most enjoyable. Even though the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane filming sequences felt a bit long, they provided some of the best moments of the play - Crawford's deliberate hunch while wheelchair bound, and Davis's building fury in a climactic confrontation between their screen characters.

The closing dialogue tracing the death of both stars' careers (appropriately delivered by the reporter, Hedda Hopper, played by the always reliable Davina Stewart) was ultimately melancholic in tone, but necessary. No matter how popular or respected they were, in the end, it didn't matter - as female entertainers, they were treated as disposable commodities - easily replaced once past their prime by the next new up and comer.

Despite the good acting, the laughs, and the story of a feud between two legends of the silver screen, there was something missing from BitchSlap! I have no doubt why it was a hit during the Fringe, but as a full-length, theatre season play, I was expecting more.

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