BWW Reviews: Macha Revives Fascinating GARBO's CUBAN LOVER
Garbo's Cuban Lover
by Odalys Nanin
directed by Nanin and Laura Butler
@ The Macha Theatre
through October 30
Celebrating its 10th anniversary Odalys Nanin's Garbo's Cuban Lover, in its third revival, currently at the Macha Theatre in WeHo, still copiously exudes the passion of Cuban writer Mercedes De Acosta (in Hollywood from 1931 until her tragic illness & death in 1968) for her art and the supposed love of her life, Greta Garbo. Based on the rumored lesbian relationships that de Acosta had with Garbo, Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne and others, Lover is Nanin's lovingly woven fictional account of how she believed it happened.
Its look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood and personal lives of the stars and creative people of the 1930s is a surefire allure, as audiences adore nostalgia and gossip. For Odalys Nanin, who not only wrote, but produces, co-directs and stars as well, it's a glowing tour-de-force. Nanin has added some scenes since I last saw the play in 2004 at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood. Isadora Duncan (Erin Holt) serves as de Acosta's muse and provides sly, witty commentary on her mistress' dalliances with Garbo (Lina Hall) and Dietrich (Vera Petrechenka), both of whom had many dark secrets and caused dreadful disappointments for de Acosta. Garbo is portrayed as a nature lover taking hikes and swimming in mountain lakes after a hard day's shoot at the studio, which she abhorred. She is also shown to be the intensely private creature of Hollywood history books, full of sad longing for her homeland and possessing an irritating way of getting what she wanted when she wanted it, even if it hurt de Acosta to her very soul. Nanin as writer portrays Dietrich as the sensually aggressive and playful femme fatale fans came to expect. For de Acosta, Dietrich was an affair to remember, whereas Garbo was the most important love in her otherwise work-oriented life.
Nanin knows de Acosta from the inside out and so her direction (wisely receiving a third eye from Laura Butler) and acting are sublime. There's hardly a false move, as the piece moves swiftly from studio office to salon to lake to Hollywood manse. Set and lighting design by John Toom and costumes by Shon LeBlanc bring out the elegance that surely was Hollywood in its faded heyday. Another plus element of the play is its fiercely honest look at MGM, Irving Thalberg (John Nagle), his brutal studio system and how it could literally chew up and spit out its writers and stars.
The acting is overall excellent with Nanin doing without a doubt the best work. Hall and Petrechenka both give an essence of Garbo and Dietrich respectively, as it is practically impossible to inhabit the skin of either legend. Neither portrayal comes off stereotypical. Holt is lovely and graceful as Duncan. Lisa Merkin is right on target as Salka Viertel, the venomous socialite/writer who engineers stealing de Acosta's script of Queen Christina. Ginger Pennington adds great touches of humor as another one of de Acosta's brief wartime love interests. John Nagle does fine work essaying taskmaster Thalberg, one of MGM's writing editors and Viertel's butler.
I have exquisite memories of French actress Lydie Denier who played Garbo in the 2004 production, as her incredible beauty made Garbo that much more enchanting. But Hall (sharing the role with Elyse Mirto) brings her own lovely quality to the role. Garbo's Cuban Lover ultimately belongs to Odalys Nanin whose soul-searching, poetic interpretation of lesbian de Acosta gives the piece its most glowing and heartfelt moments.