Bette & Kate Join the Line!

By Chuck Blasius and Robert Kahan
Directed by John Alban Coughlan
IncoacT/Creative Place
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

The conceit of this irreverently tasteless send-up of two iconic actresses finds Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis in their 80s still taking Uta's acting classes, still struggling to make it in the cruel theatre world, ever-jealous of each other's flirtations with success, but never ceasing to be loving and supportive friends.

It helps to know about the off-off-Broadway world to appreciate the sometimes hilarious humor this production offers; but it would have helped the production if the authors had selected a well-known play (the Ridiculous Theatre might have chosen Stage Door) on which to hang the plot. Without a story to spoof, the play became an episodic collection of talk-show monologues to which even the most poignant ending could not produce a cathartic, satisfying conclusion.

It's hard to know, in such a collaborative ensemble, how much the director contributed to the production or how much he simply stayed out of the way of some remarkable actors. In any case, the production was finely staged.

The actors' impersonations were affectionately cruel in exploiting the cruelties of time. Both actors sustained remarkable powers to keep an unsteady head shaking or a stroke-affected mouth pulled down.

Chuck Blasius's Kate (in mottled makeup, slacks, and bomber jacket) was so on the money he became downright spooky at times. Thus he captured not only some details like slightly smeared lipstick or perfectly disheveled hair, but the go-go-go of Hepburn's fists when she challenges the world or the way she stops just short of crying. Although Kate would not be pleased, she'd have to admit to a remarkable and touching performance that ennobled both the original and the artist who painted her.

Robert Kahan had a lesser model on which to work, since late-vintage Bette Davis was more laid-back than the still-energetic Kate, and just a bit too refined for her profanity to shock. Nevertheless, the actor (in pill box hat and gloves) did some brilliant things, such as sprechstimming a fractured medley of lyrical one-liners, burped up like onion gas.

There's a style to this company that keeps integrity and dignity shining through a genteel poverty. The costumes (by Heather Meyer, who also did the lights) were well thought through, down to shoes and stockings. But most remarkably, they expressed a valiant character.

The black and white set, by Ken Nintzel, demonstrated elegant and extremely intricate ideas; but the execution seemed a little flat and rickety.

The sound by Audible Difference, which tweaked the trebles high, was excellent. An original recording ("She's Got Miriam Hopkins Eyes") done for the production sounded like the real thing and typified the loving humor of this admirable and entertaining evening.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger

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