Now Voyager is one of those seminal Bette Davis films that continues to hold a powerful appeal; its story of the ugly duckling, repressed since birth by that monstre sacre of a mother and transformed into a well-adjusted beauty with the help of a sympathetic psychiatrist, is totally irresistible as it skillfully plays into the cinderella fantasies of anyone who has ever felt unattractive and unlovable. It was almost inevitable that it has become, like most of Davis's films, fodder for countless imitations, re-enactments and spoofs, and now John Glines's remarkably faithful all-male stage version - How Now, Voyager.
This completely shameless production is a nearly word for word transposition of the classic film script, with a few minor changes to accommodate the gender-bending premise: Charlotte Vale has become Charlie Vale, the psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith has become a physical trainer, Coach Jaquith, etc., etc., etc. For the most part it works, especially the decision to have Mrs.Vale, Charlie/ Charlotte's mother, played by a man in drag. But what should have been a delicious evening of silly, campy fun was compromised by an unsteady, earthbound production that failed to take advantage of its rich source material.
As directed with a smarmy, wink-wink nudge-nudge salaciousness by Casey Wayne, there were moments of true hilarity and style. But the production never felt entirely comfortable with itself, careering from bitchy gay satire to reverent homage to Carol Burnett-style spoof, never going far enough in any one direction to give the evening a consistent point of view. Additionally, the pacing was insufferably slow, the flow of short, cinematically-scripted scenes constantly interrupted by endless, old-fashioned blackouts that stopped the action in its less than well-oiled tracks.
The attractive cast, though, threw themselves into the proceedings with over-the-top, gleefully abandoned performances, particularly Dan Salyer and Chris Hunter in a variety of roles. The lanky Mr. Salyer was especially charming as he changed personae with effortless, chameleon-like ability, and the diminutive Mr. Hunter was a bundle of bitchy fun. As the formidable Mrs. Vale, Philip Stoehr was a nasty, hateful delight, with a firm, unwavering grasp on Charlie, his character, the production, and basically everything within his sharp-eyed domain. As Jerry Dorrance, the married man who falls for Charlie, John Justin Whitney was tall, blond, and handsome, lit two cigarettes at once with as much aplomb as Paul Henried, and was a bit of a stiff. As Charlie Vale, Beau Davis (?!!!!) was more Joan Crawford (oops!), but he looked fabulous in (and out of) the never-ending fashion parade.
The production was cleverly designed in glorious black-and-white, and the level of detail was exemplary. There were some nifty effects in Garth Reese's lighting, while J. Whitney's unit set and the costumes by John Nakovich and Debbie Semon worked with an affectionate, evocative charm to convey the ever-changing locales and time progression. The sound, however, was fuzzy and suffered from more than a few missed cues.
An undemanding evening with no redeeming social value whatsoever,
How Now, Voyager, while not what it could have been, entertained
because of its agreeable cast, witty design, and classic story.
Perhaps because of the undying popularity of the original film,
that is the best that can be hoped for. It's hard to compete with
the living ghost of your own mother.
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita