The flappers of the '20s and '30s retain a considerable amount of their appeal as subjects for drama. Their saucy spirit and disdain for staid convention provide plenty of fodder for character study -- and Robert Grosch's The Good Little Bad Girl is rather a good one.
The play, largely a solo piece for Gentry Leland Claussen (she of the title), opens with a broadcast of a radio gossip hound wondering quizzically, "Where is Faye Gordon?" It seems the flinty chanteuse dropped out of sight on the eve of her screen debut. The action then begins the previous night with Faye waiting for her date, Douglas Fairbanks, at 21. What follows is the answer to that question that's vexing the show biz community: "Where is Faye Gordon?!"
At first, Grosch's script is a footloose jaunt through icons of the jazz age: the Waldorf ballroom, celebs like Valentino, "Joe sent me" speakeasies. All along the way, though, Faye's got a scoop-hungry reporter hot on her heels (played by the offstage voice of Harry McEwan). His hints of a soiled past hit closer and closer to home as Faye begins to crack the art deco facade and own up to the rumors that threaten to end her career in Hollywood before it's begun. Here, Grosch's text achieves a stinging irony on the value the Hollywood power structure put on reality and illusion and the hypocrisy of much of their pieties. Or, as Faye puts it with signature tartness: "They'll make movies about fallen women, but they won't hire 'em!"
Ultimately, though, the show celebrates the guts, humor, and resilience it takes to survive in show biz or in any other racket. And its twist ending earns its feel-good air. Along the way, Grosch crams the script with memorably sassy one-liners like "Aw, he'd be late for Judgment Day unless St. Peter was standing there shaking a jigger a' gin." Skilfully interspersed throughout are songs of the period all put to trenchant use in coloring Faye's inner life and advancing the narrative.
The gravitational center of the evening, of course, was Claussen. She's already proven her musical talent as part of the singing waitstaff at Eighty Eights' downstairs piano bar. Here, that same charisma served the role splendidly. She rendered vividly Faye's boldness and nerve in quick economical strokes of facial expression and body English. And her delivery was extraordinarily effective. Jazz age lingo requires a vocal command as rigorous and precise in its timing as Restoration comedy. Claussen handled the staccato rhythmic flow and cadence in masterly fashion and packs a world of capricious giddiness into a seemingly spontaneous "Ooooooooh!!!" at the sight of an idol like D.W. Griffith. ("Intolerance changed my life!".)
The direction by Helen Baldassare and Jay Rogers looked like the work of established cabaret artists in the way they clearly knew how to make the most of a tiny playing space and a piano. They also utilized a very effective prolonged strobe sequence to capture the riotous, hedonistic "what the hell?" Zeitgeist (and Faye's slice of it). This was deftly handled by Jaye Lee, one of Eighty Eights' resident technical team. And the costumes by Daniel James Cole had a nice flair both for period and personality. (There's a "special thanks" listed to Jeffrey Wallach, among others. His inspired visual work in the past was doubtless an asset to the show's overall look.)
It is only to be hoped that this show finds a larger venue; the Actor's Playhouse, perhaps. It certainly deserves a wider audience.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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