Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Here's To the Fella

Elaine Stritch is an icon. The big ol' broad is notorious for her raspy yet boisterous vocal and that drink in her hand. But underneath, hidden inside the dame we know and love was someone declining. In Elaine Stritch: Still Here, Jay Malsky takes on the tough as nails woman as we watch her during the final stretch of her cabaret run. There are laughs, but make no mistake, this is a drama. Employing the active and awesome “Annie Baker pause”, Malsky gives us the struggle that Elaine journeyed through while still trying to pay respect to those who idolized her. What this piece really is is a character study of an icon. Malsky does a solid job adopting Stritch's tone and general mannerisms. From a textual point, the piece could use some finessing. The scenes are strung together in a series of vignettes over a period of time which stops the momentum. Perhaps allowing the piece to live in a singular moment before the final scene would allow that impact to resonate a bit more.
Director Zak Sommerfield guided Malsky effectively through Elaine's journey. When it came to the time shifts, Sommerfield used a projection to give us a clue on time and place but lacked any sound or song. And it was a bit painful. Adding some sound element, maybe even old interview clips or moments from the good ol’ days, in these shifts would have been of great aid. Silence in emptiness is just awkward. Malsky, Sommerfield, and scene partner Keith Rubin as Rob Bowman did all they could with the travesty of performance space. You can't not utter "where the hell am I?" after walking up the stairs into Spectrum. Make no mistake, Spectrum is not a theater venue. It is an apartment transformed into a barely passable venue. Team Stritch avoided calling attention to the floor to ceiling bookshelves stocked with a library's worth of novels and albums. But with site lines as tight as they were, the accouterments of the apartment were in full view. But leave it to Christine Liz Pynn's use of lighting to transform the small playing area into Elaine's venues. And those outfits were iconic and instantly identifiable.
Jay Malsky proves his great worth as a performer. His attention to detail is what makes this piece special. I’ll drink to that.