The Complex’s ten performance spaces run from great-looking to not-so-great-looking, but for performer and audience they all feature aural accompaniment from some of the building’s other rooms, public and private. The ground floor’s Ruby Theatre is lucky to share one of its walls not with another theater but with a liquor store. It has comfortable seats and a raised proscenium stage and, at least for the Hollywood Fringe Festival show Lovely, a beautiful curtain that actually opens and closes, one of the only such devices on Theatre Row. Friday night’s performance also included conversations from the Complex lobby (the flimsy door to which was left open by a late-arriving patron, which only made the business chatter and small talk from the front desk a little louder than before) and by the stomping and rearrangement of furniture upstairs in the Hammond Studio space. But boy, the Ruby looks great.
Lovely writer/performer Kelsey Goldberg did a good job contending with the competition from disinterested parties, not least because I can imagine few human-generated noises she couldn’t outshout. She stayed focused instead on the difficult role of a newly deceased Rosamond Pinchot. Pinchot was an actual historical figure, a socialite and stage actress who committed suicide in 1938. In this forty-five minute monologue, she debates with herself and with her vaguely posthumous audience on the subject of personal responsibility. Did she love her husband, her children, herself? Should she have? Is she worthy of salvation? Is it too late? It’s an ambitious and potentially fascinating premise with juicy tangents. The writing explores some of these ideas with clarity and pathos, though it cannot not go very far in any direction in the time afforded here.
My ears are no longer young, but I thought I heard Goldberg-as-Pinchot refer to Pinchot’s home as Grey Gardens; this is of course the infamous Edith Beale residence at East Hampton, New York, whereas the historical Pinchot estate was Grey Towers, located in Pennsylvania. The fault is probably mine. But there are errors here for which I can’t take credit.
Goldberg’s portrayal of an East Coast aristocrat born in 1908 is unconvincing on multiple levels. The modern actor has period hair and make-up, but has not the physical, vocal, nor elocutionary chops to inhabit the character of a woman who acted on Broadway during the 1920s. I didn’t spend much time in New York theaters during that period, but my studies suggest that silver spoon-fed actors did not often sound as if they had learned to speak in the San Fernando Valley. Goldberg cannot be accused of not trying, though. She launches herself into the part, and if she yells more than a good director would have recommended, it doesn’t look as if Tanushree Verma has given her much else to do. You don’t need a set or a costume that holds onto its beadwork to help tell a story. You just need some stagecraft. Choose moments, heighten them, frame them. Don’t allow an actor to begin at top volume for several minutes and ramp every subsequent sentence in a series of identical peaks and valleys.
Like her acting, Goldberg’s writing veers anachronistic; her story seems largely well-researched, but I’d argue that her use of “OK” and “copacetic” isn’t much in line with their use eighty years ago – yes they were common parlance; no, not like this. But since this monologue takes place in purgatory, or someplace ethereal at any rate, who cares. The idea is timeless: a damned soul takes stock of her behavior and motivations, and ultimately asks forgiveness of everyone, including herself. I look forward to a matured investigation of this concept.
Thursday June 11 at 7:45 pm
Friday June 19 at 10:30 pm
Wednesday June 24 at 7:30 pm
Saturday June 27 at 3:30 pm
at the Complex Theatres’ Ruby Theatre
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood
tickets available at www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2172?tab=details