This may be one of the most deliciously embarrassing things I've witnessed for quite some time, mortifying in both the watching and the perpetration. The script, by Brad Kahn and Jacqueline Stewart, purports to be an admittedly loose spin on the Oscar Wilde tale of the debaucher who remains untouched by his transgressions while in a musty attic a portrait manifests his sins. In this case it's an actress, Doreen Gray (Kindy Barr), whose portrait is a 1939 negative that bloats and droops over the next 20 years while its subject continues to play ingénues on film though being a general pig in real life. Allusions are made to Hollywood films about Hollywood, but I'd hate to be tested on the points of connection.
A director, if nothing else, should at least do the public the favor of saying at some time during the rehearsal period, "Darling, stop that. It's irritating." Kahn seems to have been incapable of this. His lead actress has three deliveries: the just-awakened breathy one with which she begins each line, the scrunched-forehead shrill one with which she ends most lines, and the slitty-eyed whisper that denotes madness. Her reactions have the curious effect of making the stage appear to be a badly edited film. There will be a moment, an "Oh, my God!" out of nowhere, then a return to the previous state in which the actress continues to explore the difference between simpering and smoldering. In my callow days I would have insinuated an unkind similarity to Tori Spelling. I have since seen Spelling onstage, and I'm here to tell you that by comparison La Spelling is Eleanora Duse.
The show needs someone like Charles Busch in the lead who can joyously explore the horror of the script that dares cough up lines such as, "Tell me, why did you choose me from all the girls of the chorus?" or, "What, I'm going to be on the cover of Life magazine? Oh my God!" This would at least give the surrounding redeemable actors (Candyce Columbus as the lesbian agent, Fran Maddocks as the crazy sister, Jeff Haas as the amoral manager) something to work with. Oddly, there is no credit for sound design—the one area in which a sense of humor pops up. The musical selections make wry commentary on the piece while the actual sound, such as the phone that has a ringer up in the ceiling, is classically dreadful. The lighting design (Peter Strauss) would have been funny (who doesn't love a red confessional downspot?) had the show been directed that way. Or at all.
When the debacle was over I noticed another critic, not one usually spotted in small NoHo theatres. "What on earth are you doing here?" I asked. She rolled her eyes and muttered, "What is anybody doing here?" Reconsidering the wisdom of running a second week would be my prayer.
"Doreen Gray—A Hollywood Story," presented by Kahn Artists in conjunction with the Raven Playhouse at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Mar. 1-Apr. 6. $15. (323) 883-0223.