‘LEGENDS!’ – Washed-Up Actresses Can Be Funny; ‘IMAGINARY INVALID’ – Exhilarating!

by Buzzin Lee Hartgrave on June 15, 2007


The original cast starred Carol Channing and Mary Martin on the stage playing two over-the-hill Actresses who always hated each other. They may be fading Legends – but not in their mind. Once a Diva–always a Diva.

Playwright James Kirkwood reveals in his book (Diary of a Mad Playwright) about the experience of working with Divas. “ Carol tripped over the cord in the vacuum-cleaner scene and fractured her wrist. They had just put it in a cast.” Kirkwood asked to speak to Carol to ask how long she would be out of the show. She said: “Oh, don’t worry about that, dear. Just write me some funny lines to explain why I have my wrist in a cast and my arm in a sling. I won’t miss a show. Don’t worry.” Kirkwood suggested maybe she should rest and also suggested that Ann Miller was interested in the part. Carol looked at him and said: “Ann Miller? –I’m going on tonight.” Nothing gets a Diva in a snit more than mentioning replacement.

So far, in the current “Legends” at the New Conservatory not one Diva has tripped over the Vacuum Cleaner cord yet. But there is still time.

P.A Cooley is always a delight to watch. And he is even more ‘cool’ in this show as a producer of sorts who tries to get the two Divas to do a play together. Cooley’s inventive acting and facial expressions keep this Diva show from turning into a dismal flop. It’s the smartest, funniest performance I’ve seen in a decade. The play is about 20 years old, but NCTC has managed to bring new life to it with the casting of two local African-American actresses to play the feuding Divas. The maid, (Gloria Belle) has tremendous oomph and bounce in this supporting role. Belle has that ‘star’ quality. You hardly know that she is acting. She is one of the nicest surprises on the stage this season.

Although there are many ‘bitchy’ lines in this play that are quite funny…many are older than my Grandmother. But, when the Divas get it just right, they become little gems that you will be using with all your friends. Younger ‘Divas’ will pick up on them immediately and try to pretend that they originated the ‘barbs’. And they will get away with it as long as they don’t try them on an old seasoned ‘Diva’.

Eleanor Jacobs is one of the Divas in the show and the other Diva, Carla Vaughan literally get into a hair pulling fight. This is one of the more energetic moments and certainly a highlight of the evening. Both Jacobs and Vaughan, in my opinion do a better job with this play than Channing and Martin did. The two make a highly combustible duo. The only thing wrong Kirkwood’s play is that there are some dead moments. The play bogs down from time to time, but picks up again with a zinger. Now, I can see, as I examine it more closely, why it never made it to Broadway even with the two original warhorses in it.

In one scene there is a roaring audience delight…a stripper (Dorsey Dyer) was engaged to perform at a party that was arranged by the Maid for her and some friends. The party was cancelled, but the stripper was not notified. Stripper shows up and starts to bump and grind in the two legends faces. And I really mean in their faces.

Between the Drama Queens you will hear these remarks. “What happened to Laura Saint Clair? –One asks. The other responds: “I heard she died of boredom while writing her memoirs.” Here’s another: “Your Career ended when too many diabetics saw your picture.” This one is great…”My mother used to see all your movies when she was a little girl.” And this got a lot of laughs: “Sylvia Glenn? I thought she was in the Smithsonian!” The Director Andrew Nance does a wonderful job of keeping the acting going. This is the best production of ‘Legends’ that I have seen. The cast is wicked and clever – you’ll want to bring friends to see it for a second time.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! At The New Conservatory Theatre Center. WINNER! The Lee Hartgrave Fame Award for acting goes to P.A. COOLEY for ‘Legends!’

“Imaginary Invalid” at the American Conservatory Theatre



I was hooked the moment I saw the set. The great high-ceiled Rotunda was enough for me. I would have been happy to just sit there and enjoy looking at that set. But I was really in for a surprise when the action started to take place on stage. What fun. Surely, a Ferris wheel would not have been as much fun. So much for Disneyland. This play with its wonderfully clever actors were more than I could ever hope for.

The comedy is adapted by Constance Congdon with a marvelous twist on words that make this version a masterpiece. The comedy as you know has been performed all over the world since 1673. I think it was A.D. Many versions have come and gone about this hypochondriac who is obsessed with doctors. Actually, we even have people like that now who have this love affair with Doctors and hospitals. But even if we know the story – it is this Translation by Congdon that brings it into the 21st Century. It’s surely not your father’s Oldsmobile. It’s fresh diabolical fun. The time just flew by. The costumes are vivid and period perfect. The men looked like perfect gentlemen in their elaborate shoes. Oh, what a time Gay men must have had in those days – being able to dress like that without raising an eyebrow.

The Actors who are impossible to resist are: John Apicella (imaginary invalid), Rene Augesen (his second wife) Allison Jean White (the daughter), Judd Williford (her lover), Gregory Wallace (the unwanted suitor), Steven Anthony Jones (the quack Doctor), Monsieur de Bonnefoi (the notary), Nancy Dusault (the maid). Ensemble: Margarett Head, Maureen McVerry, Brian Stevens. What a beautiful Dream Cast. They are just downright uproariously funny!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! – trademarked – (Highest Rating)
At the American Conservatory Theatre.

PULSE BEAT NEWS: ‘AMERICA HAS TALENT’ FINALIST IS LOOKING FOR MALE AND FEMALE DANCERS AND SINGERS FOR HIS UPCOMING SHOW AT THE HERBST THEATER. There is pay plus footage. The performance will be at the Herbst Theater on 8/24/07 and there will be a rehearsal two weeks before the performance. Ryan is looking for Male and Female singers 18+. Bring 2 tunes to sing. Date for singers will be this Monday 6/18. Dancers (Male And Female) be prepared to move with simple “Fosse-esque style, tap, and jazz. Boys will need to dance shirtless in one number and must be comfortable dancing with and around Ryan (an openly Gay Male Entertainer). Date for Dancers. Tuesday, 6/19. For times and to make an appointment email: mail@shawn-ryan.com. Or call 925-858-3548. Auditions will take place at 975 Howard (between 5th & 6th) and is Bart accessible. If you want to see Shawn Ryan’s style and work, you can look him up on YouTube.

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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