Spoleto 2008 » Recent reviews

All About Bette: An Evening With Bette Davis

Morgana Shaw delivers a commanding performance

by

comment

No matter how talented some actors are, sometimes you really just don’t want to sit and hear about their lives. You’ve sat through those awkward episodes of Inside the Actors Studio. Brad Pitt? Snooze. Renée Zellweger? Not without a really stiff drink.

But Bette Davis had it — charm, candor, tenacity. In All About Bette, the audience gets a two-hour look at Davis’ long career that puts the recent trend of drug-addled celebrity bio-pics to shame.

The play begins with Davis showing up at the theatre, largely unsure where she is and what she’s supposed to be doing. As an actress used to being center stage, Davis assumes that she is there to entertain the audience. Lucky us. She tells of her struggle to find her place in Hollywood and then later after she secured a place as one of the silver screen’s finest. Backstage gossip, Hollywood feuds, and what she really thought of her costars, Davis dishes on this and more.

“He had an affair with Kate Hepburn,” she says of Howard Hughes. “And, of course, I wanted whatever she had.”

Davis is most famous for her roles in All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and when these films come up — through a gesture or a notable line — there’s an instant response from the fans in the audience (and there were mostly fans in the audience at Tuesday’s premiere).

As Davis, Morgana Shaw commands our attention. When we first see Davis, she’s in her later years — slow-moving and burdened by a stroke. But as soon as Shaw is reintroduced as a younger version of Davis, there’s almost not enough stage for her to play with.

Fortunately there are ample stories to keep her, and the audience, occupied. Playwright Camilla Carr has captured not only the tales that Davis would certainly love to tell, but also the stories that audiences would love to hear about. (Who knew that Davis liked Mae West’s “tits.”) There are a few jokes that are strictly for the mid-century theatre lover, but the uninitiated gets enough laughs, too. The story drags a little — just a little — when Davis starts talking about her contract fight with movie producers, but one could imagine that Davis wouldn’t be able to let something like that go.

The complicated sound and lighting, particularly for a show that has traveled to Charleston for Piccolo, was handled with a near seamless ease. And, while the staging may seem meek in the beginning, it provides a truly clever treat by the end.

When Davis brings up a monstrous role she was dying to play, she tells the audience, “I wanted to be loathed.” No such luck for All About Bette. Once again, the audience loved her.

All About Bette: An Evening With Bette Davis • Piccolo Spoleto’s Theatre Series • $25 • 2 hour • June 4,5 at 5 p.m. • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • (888) 374-2656

Add a comment