Sunday, July 22, 2007

PLAY: East to Edinburgh: "Inside Private Lives"

Kristin Stone wants to get intimate with you. She wants to sit in your lap, stroke your chest, and break down the wall of silence that so often greets a monologue on the stage. She, as Christine Jorgensen, the notoriously publicized transsexual from 1952, wants to be in Playboy, and she wants you--her friends--to help convince Hugh to let her pose. And that's the thrill: at last the actor really wants something from the audience, at last, the veil between us is broken.

Her show, Inside Private Lives, isn't a theatrical showcase of "celebrity" impersonators--it's a chance for communion with vilified stars. Want to know why Elia Kazan ratted out the Group Theater? Ask him (Adam Lebow). Want to know what Tokyo Rose really thought of the American troops she demoralized during World War II? Ask her (Yee Yee Lee). Just be aware that they want something from you too: Bobby Sands (Paul Ryan) wants your blessing to continue with the hunger strike that would make him an Irish martyr in 1981. Wallis Simpson (Sheila Wolf) wants you to forget you saw her cheating on King Edward VII in 1936.

It would be naive to think that these actors can ever truly know the thoughts of the men and women they play, but it's fun to take part in their interrogation, especially if you're familiar with these fallen stars. It's a fun way to learn about real characters, not to mention a test of an actor's ability to play them, using the histories they've researched and studied. However, there are some wooden responses that seem like stump speeches, and the actors seem to get stuck on the same tactics for getting what they want from us, which limits the dramatic nature of the show to mere novelty. It's a step up from Elvis impersonators, who don't care about the soul, but a step down from what a polished piece like Frost/Nixon is trying to accomplish.

Inside Private Lives is the reality TV of theater, and it has the potential to really grow as an educational event. But without the dramatic impetus provided from a second party, or from a well-seasoned writer, it is simply a three-dimensional form of voyeurism.

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