Harold & Stella: Love Letters
Bliss Art House Café
Through June 28
Before they were giants of the American theater, future acting coach Stella Adler and prospective theater critic Harold Clurman resided on opposite coasts of the United States, penning stylish letters as they sorted out professional and personal troubles, and as the country was fixated on World War II. Directed by Sydney Walsh and produced by Sheana Ochoa, author of Adler’s first biography, this costumed reading offers an astonishingly intimate window into the pair’s courtship throughout the spring and fall of 1942. Unedited transcripts of their correspondence reveal Adler’s dissatisfaction with New York’s artistic opportunities, Clurman’s anxiety over pulling down a steady income, his distaste for Hollywood, her concern that Clurman provide for her material needs, and his fervent wish that Adler learn to live within his means.
Arianna Ratner captures Adler’s highbrow sense of entitlement and charming vanities, while Clurman (understudy Clay Wilcox in the performance reviewed) displays a proletariat humor accompanied by a consuming passion for his beloved. The piece needs far more development to evolve into a full-blooded staged production, but the personages here provide a rich starting point.—Jenny Lower
Bliss Art House Café, 1249 Vine St., https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1654?tab=tickets
21st Century Marilyn
Through June 29
This one-woman show, starring Sandy Mansson as an aged Marilyn Monroe who awakens one day to discover she’s wrinkly, washed-up and forgotten, takes aim at the dearth of opportunities for mature actresses — and presents 40 tedious minutes of giggling in the mirror, applying makeup, sipping champagne and sashaying through failed auditions.
Marilyn’s determined sex-kitten act doesn’t age well, and so her professional frustrations become pathetic rather than an indictment of Hollywood’s sexist caste system, or the show a vindication of the talents of older actresses. (The polyester dress and low-quality wig don’t help.) Mansson does a credible version of Marilyn’s breathy, girlish voice, along with renditions of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” before the show hurtles toward a dark, unexpected ending. Women in Hollywood unquestionably need better parts, but Mansson could have made her case more effectively by writing the kind of substantial, complex, age-appropriate role the industry lacks. –Jenny Lower
The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1707?tab=tickets
These reviews are offered via a partnership between L.A. Weekly and Stage Raw. To maximize coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the two publications are sharing reviews and funding responsibilities. Stage Raw is an Emerge Project of the Pasadena Arts Council, with other funding coming from a combination of advertising and individual donors. For the L.A. Weekly, please visit www.laweekly.com