Saturday, August 15, 2009

review - Billie and Bogie

Billie & Bogie
back-to-back solo shows written by performers Synthia L. Hardy (Billie Holiday)
& Dan Spector (Humphrey Bogart- Bogie)
directed by Bryan Rasmussen
Whitefire Theatre
Saturdays only at 8pm through August 22
The obvious question arises: why put stories about Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart on the same bill? What did the 2 legends have in common? She was a blues singer; he a movie star. Both lived and performed during an era - the 30s, 40s and 50s -when elegance reigned supreme. Celebrities were regarded as bigger than life and were in a class by themselves. But, they were human after all, and in these 2 solo pieces Billie and Bogie, the masks are stripped away for an hour or so and we are allowed to see them warts and all. People with the same addictions as many others; thus, a common thread for Billie and Bogie.
In Billie, written and performed by Synthia L. Hardy, the singer enters a dressing room/rehearsal space backstage and must face 3 reporters about to interview her before she performs a concert. She is agitated, to say the least, cursing, drinking and imploring the journalists to erase the swear words. Once she settles down and fixes a drink or two for herself and her Piano Man (Lanny Hartley) who sits quietly, awaiting her orders to rehearse a song, she begins the story of her unsettling life. We learn of Miss Holiday's drug abuse - which she calls "old news", proclaiming that she is now "clean" - and how her first husband Jimmy Monroe introduced her to opium, her young girlhood given over to prostitution and incarceration, and her rather haphazard introduction to the music business.
What is fascinating about this piece are all the little lesser known details of Holiday's life tapestry, like the deep love for her mother - the glue of the family, how Billie was raped at age 10 and then unfairly branded a seductress, the black man's plight/suffering and the difficulty for Holiday being the first black woman in an all white band (Artie Shaw). Details build methodically and meaningfully through Hardy's intense, intimate portrait and enrich one's understanding of Holiday's bitter yet compromised attitude. Hardy may not sound exactly like Holiday but does a fine job with 7 tunes within the structure of the piece, including "Them Their Eyes", "God Bless the Child", "My Man", "Good Morning Heartache" and the unforgettable "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do".
Overall, the play has a solid structure, with the interview establishing its purpose, and a fully committed and richly personal performance by Hardy.
Bogie, on the other hand, has less urgency. He is not being interviewed, but, for some unknown reason, allows the public in on a private moment at Romanoff's after he wins the Oscar for The African Queen. He chides the press for trying to follow him in, so from the start the play seems to exist solely for the glimpse we get of the crusty icon portrayed most convincingly by Dan Spector. At certain moments when Spector cocks his head or sits forward at his private table at the restaurant, he looks and intones eerily like Bogart.
Hardly a bad boy, his gangster film image, he was more a Little Lord Fauntelroy as a child dressed up like a "dandy" by his snobbish Episcopalian mama, the wife of a drug-addicted surgeon. Bogie's most serious vice? Alcoholism. He drinks and drinks, eats a few bites of French toast, plays chess solo, "an intellectual exercise", talks with levity about his wives and one's gravely serious mental disorder. He says very little about third wife Lauren Bacall, but implies that she, the last, was his most meaningful partner.
He proclaims his passion for sailing, talks about John Huston and his irritating directorial habit of doing take after take, and brags about his own ongoing affair with an assistant -"not one person can satisfy all your needs". Flaws abounding, it is the feisty, honest Bogie who wins our hearts, sharing his indolence, low-class qualities, and impetuous nature. I loved that he put down his performance in The African Queen - totally unjustified - "I was a jackass and Huston let me do it" and that he praised Brando for his work in A Streetcar Named Desire, implying perhaps that Brando should have won that Oscar as Best Actor. Bogie's taking a pee in an offstage restroom with the door open is yet another unforgettable "I am who I am" moment.
There's a consistently loose structure for Bogie, which may very well assist Spector in creating a seemingly spontaneous and undeniably real portrait of the legend.
In summary, a strong, intelligent and enjoyable "slice of life"evening of theatre in 2 very distinct worlds of show business with 2 memorably passionate portrayals. Fluid, well-paced direction by Bryan Rasmussen.
4 out of 5 stars


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