The Bottom Line
Interesting play of ideas offers a precious chance to relish veteran actress Salome Jens at work, although the production remains underdeveloped.
Skylight Theatre (through Apr. 21)
Salome Jens, Jenn Robbins, Geoffrey Forward
For lovers of theater history, provides a banquet of yesterday’s treats, as the walls of centenarian diva Abigail Booth (Salome Jens) are adorned with artifacts of legendary players, from Eva Le Gallienne to Ina Claire and Laurette Taylor to John Barrymore. This fictitious descendant of the royal family of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth has remained secluded in her small West Hollywood estate after failing to secure funding for a theater. On the day Al Gore concedes the election to George W. Bush, Abigail and her nephew Jamie Booth (Geoffrey Forward) grant an audience to aspiring actor Laura Keating (Jenn Robbins), a scandal-plagued starlet who had drawn attention for her Alma in and now has been offered artistic redemption as Lady Macbeth, against the advice of her agent and manager. Laura wants coaching for this challenging role, and a frank assessment of whether she might truly be up to it.
“Loss of memory, memory of loss,” Abigail muses on aging, to which one might add that given the evanescence of the theatrical moment, it is indeed ironic that all these memories of the stage past predate the experience of virtually anyone now alive, instead being “false memories” of past truth. Playwright Donald Freed () has fashioned his entire vision around fantasies of history, fixating repeatedly on fanciful inventions about an imaginary Nixon, JFK, George W., Marilyn, the Rosenbergs. Freed was mashing up celebrity images before hip-hop left its cradle in the Bronx, but given his conspiratorial mien, he often opts to be cranky rather than dazzling, and more didactic than organic.
He does have a knack for disputation, and the training exercises and deep backstory rehearsals Laura undergoes under the tutelage of Abigail and Jamie (himself a great actor who in terror fled the boards forever in the middle of the dagger scene) are full of marvelous parsing of the characters in .