The best thing about this one-woman show portraying Jackie Kennedy is that it inspired me to immediately watch videos of the icon the second I got home that night. And they were indeed eye-opening. So, I thank Jackie Unveiled for that.
Other than that one spark, though, I’m pretty comme ci, comme ça about this one; it’s not awful, but it’s far from wonderful.
The only thing that is wonderful about this presentation at The Wallis’ Lovelace Theatre is François-Pierre Couture’s set. This was my third visit to the Wallis’ smaller intimate theatre space on the ground level of the edifice, and it’s the third configuration I’ve seen it in! This time, the audience is on three sides of the gorgeous set, which is so brightly-lit (in a good way) that we can see every little nuance of the beauty of it. (But, conversely, it means that we can also see all the sleeping members of the audience, which on the night I was there, were quite a few!)
So here’s a quick history of why I feel the way I do regarding any entertainment that portrays historical figures. When I was very young, I saw an old movie about Jesse James. I assumed I was watching a moving history book, and that I now knew the true story. But the very next week, I saw another version of the saga of the James brothers, (I’ve been a fan of old movies my entire life,) and…it was totally different! That’s when I realized that you just can’t trust these “based on a true story” tales. (But I would love it if, when I’m gone, someone portrays me as a classy Grace Kelly type! Trust me, there will be no hard feelings about that little liberty!)
So, I’m not a fan of theatrical speculations on real people; they just confuse me. (I had been thinking that maybe that’s just me, but then the very intelligent and worldly pal with whom I saw Jackie Unveiled started sending me her post-show research tidbits, as well, so I realized that I’m not alone.)
In this case, though, the program note from the playwright, Tom Dugan, tells us that what he was going for, basically, is an imagined version of what Jacqueline Kennedy might have to say about her uber-interesting life, after he did many years of extensive research on the subject. Still, imagined scenarios are just never my cup of tea with historical figures.
So, we had a tie—great set, weak premise. I needed a tie-breaker as to my positives and negatives. And that came in the form of Saffron Burrows, the actress the narrative relied on to get the story across. As much as I hate to say it, her performance must go in the “weakness” category.
Even though Ms. Burrows is a zillion times prettier than Jackie Kennedy was, (I never got why people back then considered Jackie to be a beauty,) and I’d kill to have her gorgeous nose, I’m sad to say that that’s about where my admiration ends.
She tries hard to affect Jackie’s weird and baffling speech patterns, (which I’ve never understood my whole life,) to varying degrees of success, so I’m left scratching my head as to why she doesn’t also try to emulate Kennedy’s soft voice. She sounds more like full-throated, husky-voiced Marlene Dietrich than almost-whispering Jackie Kennedy. And the few other characters she portrays over the two hours all sound like the Jamaican taxi driver in the second act.
Even worse than that is that she puts periods…after…every…sentence she utters! That’s one of the biggest no-nos they teach in Acting 101! No one talks like that in real life! That delivery of hers was making me want to tear my hair out! (Then I could have borrowed her Jackie wig because it looks a tad strange on Saffron’s head–—it sort-of takes over her whole being. You know a show is going wrong when you keep focusing on the semi-ill-fitting wig. Which makes it sort-of a relief when the second half features senior citizen, cancer-ravaged Jackie, so instead of the wig, Saffron rocks a headscarf.)
Saffron Burrows has always worked a lot, so I’m assuming this performance is an anomaly. Or the product of strange directing. But you know that I always tell it like it is.
And it’s never an easy task to be the only person on stage, with all eyes on you at all times. I have to give her props for not fumbling over even one line of the very wordy script, especially so early in the run. So props to her for that.
Okay, that’s all I have to say on the subject. I could get nit-picky, but I’m in a generous mood on Oscars week. You all get my gist.
So, if you’re a fan of what maybe went on in the mind of the former first lady, and of slow acting with strange speech, this is the show for you. Or even if you have a couple of hours to kill in Beverly Hills and want to see if you agree with my observations, (which I assure you, you will!)
Jackie Unveiled running through March 18, 2018
Wallis Annenberg Theater For The Performing Arts—Lovelace Studio Theatre
9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard Beverly Hills 310-746-4000 www.thewallis.org