Carole, A Celebration of Carole Lombard A Review
Starring Tara Walden
Written by Robert M. Stecher
Produced and Directed by John Rurdy
The Tiffany Theater
8532 Sunset Blvd.
West of La Ceiniga at Hollaway
Performances January 20 through February 18, 2001
Parking in the rear $5.00
“A celebration of the life and loves of screwball comedy Actress, Carole Lombard
Portrayed with wit and humor in two acts”.
One woman shows are demanding. The actress, the writer and the director are all in “full view” of the audience. Most of the one-woman/one-man shows that I am familiar with are either efforts to showcase the star in a range of situations (i.e. Sandra Sing Low) or they focus on the intimate relationship between the actor (i.e. Hal Holbrook) and his character (Mark Twain). This show, Carole, appears to be neither. The writer Robert Stecher seems to have a life long admiration for “Carole” and created this piece to celebrate his affinity for the actress.
Based on his biography in the program he was about 12 when Carole died in a plane crash while she was selling war bonds at the start of America’s involvement in World War II. When she died she was only 33 years old, but had more than twenty years of movie making experience during Hollywood’s heyday of movie moguls and studio based “movie stars.” Growing up in Hollywood, a transplant from the Midwest at 12, she probably spent more time in front of the camera than in school. She was married to Clarke Gable when she died on the side of a mountain outside Las Vegas.
Stecher’s show has a talented and beautiful actress that offers a great deal of likeness to the photographs of Ms. Lombard, for a brief moment I thought the real Caorle was back in town . Costumes and make up, including some excellent hairdos and wigs, are the highlight of the show. Unfortunately the dialogue is more of a “reading” of Ms. Lombard’s resume, without the cryptic humor that was Lombard signature. Ms. Walden works hard at delivering a long monologue, but in the end she is just not given a script to capture the magic of the star. I saw the way Ms. Lombard wore her hair but not her soul. Too often, scenes fall flat from over production. The tennis scene is a good example that requires two changes in costume without a great contribution to the story. A tennis racquet and some juicy dialog would have made the point.
Sometimes it’s “too much information” that bogs her down. For example, the phone rings incessantly with the various Hollywood gossip columnists digging for a story. After Luella (Parsons) and Hedda (Hopper) have been dispatched with aplomb and misinformation along with assurances that they each would be the first to know, then we have to sit through the same routine with Walter (Winchell) and.. we get the point, move on all ready. Other times there is an opportunity for a funny line and it just doesn’t come. We learn from the beginning of the show that Ms Lombard had a foul mouth, but frequently the use of this language seems gratuitous and unnecessarily strains the believability of the script.
The show is elaborately produced with a full team of lighting (Sophia Corona and Elizabeth Romaine) and sound (James Beaton) directors as well as an art director ( Paula Holt). The blackout periods to change scenes seem overbearing since there are limited props. The set itself constricts our heroine and forces her into the same pose over and over. The use of projected images is a nice touch, but when the sound track tries to give us the sound of a thirties airliner and it’s a piper cub taxing at Van Nuys airport it’s a little thin. This disparity is made even more obvious when there is an extended discussion about the TWA flight, it’s a DC-3, and even a short clip of a similar plane. The unauthentic sound becomes a distraction rather than a contribution.
With all the elaborate production team, the director could have used a choreographer to help with the dance scene. Carole floats around the floor but makes no pithy comments and struggles to offer a real dance. The best part of this minuet was the ordering of dry martinis for one of her guests. Ms. Walden moves gracefully enough, she needed direction from a dancer. When the audience is practically in the show it is hard to get away with illusion, the plastic roses were too obvious. Real roses on the set would have enhanced the believability. Carole was an elegant lady give her the props to enhance the show.
Clearly there is an audience for this show, I found nearly a hundred web sites on a simple search, but I was more entertained by the dialog on the web than the lines in the play. Director John Purdy knows a lot about directing commercials, I’m not sure he is the appropriate director for this show. Coincidently the run of this show brackets the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Carole’s husband, Clarke Gable. A strong editing of the dialogue, insertion of the famous “screwball” image and tighter direction could make this a believable show. Ms Walden appears to have the talent, certainly the look to bring Carole Lombard to life again for all of us but she failed to show us the heart and soul of Carole Lombard.