When those saints go dancing in

A Rockette's Tail

By Joanna Rush
Directed by Walter Wilson
New York Solo Play Festival
Where Eagles Dare Theatre
347 W. 36th St. ground floor (212/868-4444;
Closes Dec. 28
Review by Charles Battersby

A Rockette's Tail refers to the "tail" of Bernadette O'Connell, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, a veteran film and stage actress, and also the victim of numerous rapes and rape attempts. O'Connell's story is based on playwright/performer Rush's own life and takes the audience through O'Connell/Rush's lives as she/they grow from Catholic schoolgirls, to Rockettes, to grizzled show-biz vets.

Over the course of the play Rush took on the personae of various folk from her life, including the stern nuns who harassed her in high school, as well as her mother, her husband, other Rockettes, and her various lovers. The play progresses chronologically, following her life from school to (more or less) the present.

Rush demonstrated excellent variety in her vocal characterizations and performed all the roles well, but Rush's script doesn't offer much of a plot or story for these characters. The protagonist, Bernadette, has the vague goal of "becoming a Saint," and Rush uses a recurring rape theme to hold the audience's attention, but most of the play is over by the time this rape theme gets interesting. The earlier references to rape are dealt with offhandedly; Rush apparently does so deliberately, to strengthen the impact of the big revelation scene that comes near the end of the play, but most of the play lacks a dramatic focus for the audience. Even though O'Connell/Rush's lives are more dramatic and adventurous than most people's, fiction is still often stranger than truth.

Sometimes, though, the story is less important than how it's told, and Rush told this one well. Under the direction of Walter Wilison, Rush filled the stage with her personality, often bursting into choreographed dance numbers (choreography by Glenn Turner) and even a musical number (lyrics by Willison and music by Jeffrey Silverman). In fact the "Bubbles in the Bathtub" number was one of the most memorable moments in the show.

Rockette... had modest production values, which gave mixed results. The set was only six black boxes and a matching stool, but Wilison used these simple set pieces to great effect. Throughout the show Rush was constantly rearranging these blocks into different configurations to represent assorted pieces of furniture, including the bathtub for the musical number.

Lighting, by Hideaki Tsutsui, and sound were exceptional. Rockette... had quite a few sound effects, and often Rush's monologs and dances were accompanied by incidental music, which livened up the action. Tsutsui's lighting plot (used for the entire Solo Play Festival) ably captured the action, which occurred all over the stage.

Costumes were as simple as could be. Persons hoping to see Bernadette in one of her Rockette outfits will be disappointed, since the only costume worn was a set of black street clothes. Rush's ensemble was functional for the dance numbers, but it tended to make her blend into the black curtains, black stage, and black set pieces that surrounded her. Would it have killed an ex-Rockette to throw on something a bit flashier?

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby