Bitch! (The Autobiography of Lady Lawford, as told to Buddy Galon)
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 17, 2009
Bitch! is based on the book BITCH! The Autobiography Of Lady Lawford As Told To Buddy Galon. Lady May Lawford, mother of Rat Packer Peter Lawford and reluctant in-law to Joe and Rose Kennedy, said, "I have been called a bitch by the Aga Khan, by the Duke of Windsor, by Winston Churchill, by King Farouk, and by old Joe Kennedy. At least I have been called a bitch by the best!" In this production, expertly directed by Melinda Buckley, Charlotte Booker and Joe Kinosian show why those famous people came to that conclusion in what has to be one of darkly funniest FringeNYC productions ever.
Booker, who not only portrays Lady Lawford in all her eccentric and slightly pathetic glamour but who also wrote the hilarious script, is a marvel. She just commands the stage with her brilliant comic timing and charm. She may call herself a bitch, but her daffy joie de vivre, despite her frequent racist comments, drunken tirades, and emotional manipulations, are a delight to watch, laugh at, and make you feel glad you are not Buddy, the object of her attention.
Kinosian, as Buddy Gallon, enables and hustles Lady Lawford at the same time and keeps us guessing. Is he a secretly gay gigolo with a dark streak or does he really love Lawford in an unlikely co-dependent May-December relationship? Or both? Either way, she fascinates him and we are fascinated watching his depiction of the handsome young Southerner with a case of "Hollywooditis" alternate between boyish, almost childlike affection and a more mature and sinister exploitation of his companion and patron.
This, however is no updated version of Sunset Boulevard. Gallon is doing fine on his own when he meets Lawford at a party. He has been hired to play the piano and later, when he tells her of Martha Raye and Raymond Burr showing up at the club where he entertains, she is the one who is envious and star struck. They may need each other, but it is not because Lawford is the one who pays the bills. She needs his youth, male attention and emotional care taking. He wants proximity to fame and glamour. She may have to entertain an offer to greet customers in a jewelry store for money, but she can also tell him what she knows about the death of Marilyn Monroe.
That leads to one of the funniest running gags in the play—Lawford's obsession with "those damn Kennedys!" It's offensive, but hilariously so, when she calls them "shillelagh-wielding hooligans" or the "Hibernian Cosa Nostra" because of her own cluelessness. This is a woman who thinks her son would have a longer lasting marriage to Elizabeth Taylor because she's "English, you know."
There are several references to the movie Harold and Maude, one outright and two slyer ones, when Buddy plays the movie's theme song by Cat Stevens and in the second scene when they meet again at a funeral. I'm still not sure why. It could be to point up another relationship where the age gap between the man and woman is more than 30 years, and both productions have the same black humor. But the similarities there end. It doesn't matter, though. It's still clever if not completely necessary to a script that completely stands on its own.
The costumes by Leah Berkowitz are wonderful and the set design team Tony Castrigno and Samantha Yeager create an almost gothic room filled with blank picture frames representing portraits of dead husbands and Lawford's past. This is a fantastic show with a terrific script and marvelous actors. Go see it!