Billie (Synthia L. Hardy) walks into the rehearsal hall, cursin’. Someone in the world has just tried to stiff her for her fee and she is not happy about it, at all. She’s tired, she’s pissed, and this is the day that people (the audience) have come to meet her and to write about her. It is a less than perfect flawless introduction and Ms. Holiday is less than apologetic about the nasty mood. But she will grace the visitors with some history about herself. Not the drug stuff though, because that season in her life is passed. Accompanied by Piano Man (Lanny Hartley), who sits patiently at his ivories, Billie graces the onlookers with a few tales from her wounded soul.
Many of the stories regaled by Ms. Holiday are ones that people never talked about. As one of the many who know what they know of Billie Holliday from the film “Lady Sings The Blues”, much of her early life was an untold story. This show focuses on the small but significant details that shaped Lady Day in her youth and her discovery of singing.
Anyone can concede that the truculent history of race relations in this country have scarred and shaped people on both sides of the struggle. So the string of racial slurs spurring from Ms. Holliday was pretty uncomfortable to listen to, however, perhaps, not exactly inaccurate. It was extraordinary talents and abilities that allow a person to transcend the some of the many limitations of societal prejudices. Because Hardy’s piece is so confrontational and angry, there is little opportunity for an audience to be sympathetic. The character’s hostility kills any chance there is for us to be moved by the injustices she suffered. And she failed to show how music was this woman’s escape. Instead of a lesson in how music can unite us, this show is a bitter reminder of how cruel were once were to each other.
Then again, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps a thing that is revered and glorious to the masses, is just a job to someone else. Perhaps this show is a commentary on how much race relations have changed, and how far we still have to go. Perhaps this show was meant to be strong medicine.
The element that could have elevated this character and this piece was the music. The reason society “tolerated Billie Holiday for being Black” and allowed her into place that black folks just didn’t go at that time was because of her singing talent. However Ms. Hardy’s vocal abilities are not that extraordinary. The songs were the songs and the dialogue was the dialogue. I didn’t feel that the performance extended from one to the other. Singing is still performance; it’s still storytelling. I was disappointed.
* * * * *
Humphrey Bogart on the night he wins his Oscar for Africa Queen. Beating out Brando in Street Car. A charity Oscar at best. Overjoyed, humbled, Bogie (Dan Spector) makes his way through the evening, answering reporters, celebrating. As the evening wanes, the only constant confidante of the evening is his new best friend Oscar. Eventually, his thoughts and conversation becomes an intimate conversation, a reflection between the film icon and his new trophy. Images are projected on a screen over the stage and archive soundbites also round out the atmosphere of what is a very simple curtained set of table, chairs and chess set.
Bogie reminisces about his many lost loves, ex wives, his absent father and the McCarthy Ear. With much of Spector’s performance focused outward to invisible persons beaconing from off stage, it is a welcomed transition when the conversation gets smaller and more introspective. This is the heart of his performance; not the accuracy of Bogart’s famed nuances, but the stories from the actor’s life that actually flow from Spector in natural stream of consciousness. We can see him experiencing the memories, which in turn lends truth to Spector’s respectful incarnation of the film actor.
While this solo show did go on a bit too long, it was informative and enjoyable. Dan Spector’s performance was funny, ironic and heartfelt. At the end of the evening I felt as though I did know a bit more about the Bogie: he was just an average guy who tried to do the right thing; an optimist; a shining star gone too soon.
Billie & Bogie is currently running through August 22, 2009 @
13500 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
For Reservations: (323) 960-4418