by Mel House · August 11, 2014
Confession: I was a fan of actress and comedian Leila Ben-Abdallah’s work before signing on to review her new solo play How Did I Get in Here? The Beverly Blondell Story. This high opinion can be a double-edged sword for an artist. I didn’t do any research and went into the play as if I were a blank slate, but I expected great things. I’m so pleased to share that I was not disappointed. In fact, I urge you to run. Right now. Go get your tickets for this hilarious documentary-style solo play before it sells out!
Sitting in Venue #5--the C.O.W.--at 21 Clinton Street, I noticed five chairs positioned like the five of diamonds in a pack of playing cards. The back wall seemed to be a white screen, would there be projections? An array of props scattered about the stage, signaled the quick-changes to come. Suddenly the opening credits roll and a seductive voice over leads me into a documentary-style play (think A&E Biographies) about a former Vaudeville comedienne turned Hollywood starlet, Beverly Blondell. Sassy and provocative shots captured by Tamsi New and Cassandra Katsiaficas introduce us to the glamourous vixen.
Then we cut to the stage, where Leila transforms into various characters from Ms. Blondell’s life: her twin sister and former vaudeville partner (Hester Schatz-Gumm), her acting guru (Vincent St. Bunny), her earnest and long-suffering first husband (William Fitzsimmons), her devoted maid (Bogdana), and her longtime agent (Jerome “Stubby” Rosenblatt). Ben-Abdallah transitions with ease between each character, each one distinct and hilarious. Bogdana was definitely my favorite.
I started to believe in Beverly Blondell and I was so curious about Ben-Abdallah’s source material. Surely she didn’t make all this up? The level of detail in the story, the characters, the timeline, and artifacts shared on film were too good to be faked. Oh sure, there was a funny turn here and there of Ben-Abdallah playing one of Beverly’s many husbands or film clips from her illustrious career. But really, how did her mind create all this?! I marvelled at the perfect structure of her piece and delighted at her showmanship.
Leila Ben-Abdallah, in How Did I Get in Here? The Beverly Blondell Story has created a smart, imaginative and supremely funny romp through one woman’s rise and fall through celebrity, addiction, tumultous relationships, suspicously re-occuring spousal deaths, and finally her own tragic end.
Tightly directed by Katie Hartman, with flawless tech by Christine Liz Pynn, enhanced by the well crafted videos by Nate Foster and Tamsi New, and conceived, written, edited and performed by Leila Ben-Abdallah, How did I Get in Here? The Beverly Blondell Story provides a wonderful parody of our own obsessions with star-culture.