With his new play DARK VOYAGER local playwright John Misto taps into something pretty much universal, the passion, more to the point obsession that people have with everything to do with celebrity.
Misto piques our interest with this tantalising scenario:-
We are in Hollywood. It’s 1962. Right wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper sure has a lively sense of wanting to live dangerously. Hedda invites the two leading ladies, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, over for supper in her swanky Beverly Hills apartment.
The duo had just completed their latest film, ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ and word from the set is that the co-stars had been fighting like cat and dog through the film’s entirety and that the film had not turned out well.
Both the women arrive true to form. First Bette arrives and is so rattled by Skip, Bette’s house boy, not recognising her, that she gets into the whisky very early on…Then Joan strolls in, in a resplendent blue dress, having managed to get through her crowd of fans.
As is their usual style, Bette and Joan start picking away at each other..Then Hedda adds more tension to the supper when she announces that head of the FBI Herbert Hoover has been keeping a close eye on their personal files and is going to make life very difficult for them if he hears that either have been talking to the press about the much mooted affair between President JFK and Marilyn Monroe.
These two very feisty, independent women don’t generally like being told how to behave! Joan gets snarly and says that Marilyn is a close friend of hers and that she might just get in touch with her and get her to come over to the supper.
With the stakes getting higher and more and more outrageous, our attention is drawn to how this is all going to play out.
Anna Crawford, the Ensemble theatre’s Associate Director, put her hand up to take that intrepid journey of taking John Misto’s pages and bring them to life on one of Sydney’s main stages.
Crawford’s creative team set up the right milieu for the cast to work their magic in. Anna Gardiner’s art deco, period set is outstanding. There was one of those wow moments when the back, beige curtain opened and revealed an addition to the set, the kitchen area. Gardiner’s costumes all were appropriate to character, including Davis’s daggy outfit. Davis was known to have a particularly poor fashion sense.
Veteran make-up artist Peggy Carter’s work with the cast was her usual high standard.
Crawford wins good performances from her cast who, no doubt, would have relished being given to step into the shoes of some of these celebrated characters from Hollywood’s golden years. They all make the most of their opportunity!
Jaenette Cronin was outstanding as the caustic Bette Davis. She appears so assured on stage. This certainly came through in a scene that would have thrown many actors. Walking up the few steps on stage actor Eric Beecroft actors tripped over a piece of the floor slate. In a split second, with a throw of her hand, Cronin had disposed of the broken, potentially hazardous slate to the side of the stage.
Kate Raison embodied strongly the character of ‘Mommie Dearest’ Crawford. Crawford’s hard edged, ambitious, cold fish personality came across well.
Belinda Giblin was convincing as Hollywood columnist el supremo Hedda Hopper who had so much sway in Hollywood at the time that she could kill a show if she panned it.
Lizzie Mitchell portrayal of Monroe was a little light on and one dimensional, with Monroe simply coming across as a stoned bimbo, when history has proved her to be a much more complex character. This was hardly the fault of the actress, as clearly this was the part that has been written.
Eric Beecroft as Hedda’s helper/butler Skip held his own, admirable in a play dominated by four such strong female roles. Only one reservation. It seemed to take Eric too long a time into the play to incorporate his character’s very telling stutter.
I left the theatre with mixed feelings about this latest Misto work. On one hand, DARK VOYAGER was a quite exhilarating ride in the company of these wilful, obscenely self focused characters.
On the other hand, there was this sense that Misto himself was being too much of a dark voyager. As Act 2 drove on, and new and darker revelations and inferences came out, there was a feeling that there was too much focus on the dark side, and the characters lost some of their humanity, together with our empathy…
Anna Crawford’s production of John Misto’s DARK VOYAGER opened at the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli on Wednesday 30th July and is playing until Saturday 30th August.