Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Tallulah"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


by Sandra Ryan Heyward
Directed by Michael Lessac

Set Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Bob Mackie
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by Scott Lehrer
Original Music by Michael Jaye
Production Stage Manager Warren Crane

Tallulah Bankhead...............................Kathleen Turner

One odd thing about the full moon --- which rose brightly and beautifully into the city sky as the press-night crowd left the Colonial Theatre --- is that, for all its glory, slowly and subtly it will be down hill from here on. Sandra Ryan Heyward's one-woman show "Tallulah" allows Kathleen Turner to show everyone a flamboyant actress coming to terms with age, with unfulfilled artistic promise, with a harsh and unfriendly future, with her impulse to be outrageous, and with the fame that makes playing herself the hardest, most thankless role of all.

If this were merely a two-hour docudrama about a hasbeen old bag refusing to fade it could be moving, but there is much more here. Tallulah like every great actress lives totally in the moment, with all her impulses and exaggerations and dreams and self-criticisms passionately expressed on the surface. Here, in a sumptuously, elegantly modern hotel room by Derek McLane, this still-famous, exciting star is alone with the one adoring, forgiving, responding person that has ever understood her --- her audience. With this responsive friend she can be her own worst critic, her staunchest defender; she can quote her own best lines, her own worst reviews, her childhood grins, and her fears of a fading future. She is every woman who has ever stepped upon a stage, and one who realizes she has become famous for all the wrong reasons.

And if even all that alone were true, it would be a movingly human experience. But both these great actresses --- Bankhead and Turner --- manage to get down to the essence of performing, admitting that a star is someone who commands attention merely by walking into a room or onto a stage, admitting that standing in the center of that attention is the only time they feel, truly, alive. It's not the columnists quoting her quips or the sell-out crowds applauding or the warm glow of the single spot --- it's that attention they crave. The show calls for Turner to speak directly to the audience, and occasionally to individuals in it, as good, understanding, intimate friends. For these great actresses, that is the only reality.

For this role Kathleen Turner has lowered her voice, and slipped on the remnants of an Alabama accent, and Director Michael Lessac has her handle the big Colonial stage like her own living-room, but the one proof of her command as a theatrical artist will probably show up in every Boston critic's lead paragraph, because it's news. About twelve minutes into the first act on a press-night that brought every local writer into the house, Sound Designer Scott Lehrer's amplification system loudly and totally died, leaving the star alone onstage with nothing but her naked voice. She covered with a brief ad-lib, picked up the next line, and delivered the show, exactly as rehearsed, with no indication whatsoever that anything had changed. She hit every note and every emotion and every quip precisely as intended, and never once became anything but Tallulah on stage. That alone would earn the warm standing-o her friend the audience gave her --- but, long before the sound failed and then sneaked softly back on, Kathleen Turner had given every one of those intimate friends alone with her much better reasons for their applause.


"Tallulah" (till 22 October)
The Colonial Theatre
106 Boylston Street, BOSTON
1(617) 931-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide