Call Me Anne
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
December 3, 2008
As celebrity burnouts go, actress Anne Heche's was unquestionably dramatic. In the mid-1990s she exploded onto the Hollywood "A" List, with starring roles in eight films alongside the likes of Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, and Robert DeNiro. Then her relationship with comedienne Ellen DeGeneres—who had just gone public with her sexual orientation—attracted more notice than her career. Then after two years, after dropping off the screen and a breakup with DeGeneres, Heche suddenly turned up half-naked in a stranger's house in Fresno, babbling in an imaginary language, claiming that she was God's daughter "Celestia," and that she was there to rendezvous with the spaceship that would take her home.
With source material like that, it's no surprise that Heche's memoir Call Me Crazy has inspired theatrical adaptation. Performer Phillip Taratula's one-man show Call Me Anne focuses mainly on the parts of Heche's life we know about—her rise to stardom, Ellen, "Celestia"—in a sort of dramatic recreation of Heche's own words.
Taratula is surprisingly good as "Anne." He couldn't look more different from Heche if he tried—and wisely, he doesn't try to look like her. His only nods to a "female" appearance are some small false eyelashes and a slightly more feminine look to his clothes (thanks to costume designer Bobby Frederick Tilley II); but he doesn't stuff those shirts, and rather than fussing with a blonde wig, he keeps his own clean-shorn head. So it's all the more remarkable that as the play went on, Taratula actually started to look like Heche to me—he's caught many of her mannerisms dead-on, but avoids lapsing into parody. He also admirably throws himself into performing some of the more unusual moments from Heche's story, such as the moment when "Anne" does an interpretive dance at a Hollywood dinner party.
Unfortunately, it is when people who aren't Heche enter the story that the show falters, because there's little consistency to how the show presents them. Director Matt McGrath has come up with four different ways to depict the "other characters" in the play: prerecorded voiceovers, voiceovers accompanied by video projection (designed by Ned Stressen Reuter), video projection alone, and Taratula switching characters. Sometimes it works—"Ellen" is played by a series of slides and a prerecorded voice, and the slide they use when "Ellen" first invites "Anne" to the bedroom is an inspired choice—but sometimes it doesn't: Taratula often plays "Lisa," an actress friend of Heche's, and "Lisa's" costume is simply a pair of huge horn-rim glasses that Taratula dons when needed, but he often seemed to have difficulty finding them in time. At another point, "Anne" has dinner with a friend "Ben," who is a prerecorded voice—but "Ben" often has some lengthy lines, leaving us with nothing to look at but Taratula reacting. He does so well, but it still looks odd. Using different techniques is fine, but a greater attention to their execution would have better supported Taratula's own performance.
Reuter's video projections also make up the bulk of the set, which allows for some interesting visual jokes as well as quick scene changes (although, speaking of the changes, someone should have a word with the stage hand who kept walking right in front of the projections during the blackouts).
Ultimately, more attention to the technical details could have done much to make this a good showcase for the talented Taratula—but as it is, the show is an entertaining enough trip down memory lane for Anne Heche fans and for Hollywood gossip buffs.