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Review: Impressively Original THAT WOMAN Presents Stunning Portraits of Women Involved With JFK

New Work Presented by Tennessee Playwrights Studio an Angela Gimlin at Darkhorse Theater

Review: Impressively Original THAT WOMAN Presents Stunning Portraits of Women Involved With JFK

One of the most exhilarating and daunting things about theater is the unknown: You never know until you're seated in the dark, watching something happen in front of your very eyes, if it's going to engage your imagination and challenge your preconceived notions or leave you disappointed and perhaps even annoyed by the time lost witnessing something that is not yet ready for public consumption.

For well over a year now, actor/producer/activists Angela Gimlin (of Inebriated Shakespeare fame) and Molly Breen (of Tennessee Playwrights Studio fame) have been telling me of their plans to bring to the stage That Woman - The Monologue Show and its companion (and stand-alone) piece That Woman - The Dance Show. The pairing of the two pieces represent an endeavor which features a series of ten monologues written and performed by an impressive coterie of women from the local theater community and a collection of original choreographed dance pieces (also featuring the work of local artists, dancers and actors-who-move) that tell at least a part of the stories of the very real women who were rumored to have been linked - whether romantically, sexually, politically, personally or otherwise - to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States.

First conceived prior to the global Covid 19 pandemic and nurtured through those dark and challenging times by Gimlin and Breen, the two halves of That Woman have finally debuted at Nashville's Darkhorse Theatre this week and will continue there and at The East Room in East Nashville through June 29, affording audiences throughout the city an opportunity to see this unique collection of original works of art close to home.

My response to That Woman - The Monologue Show, which I saw during its second night performance at Darkhorse Theater, is resoundingly positive: It's a must-see production for anyone who supports and appreciates original theater, as well as anyone with a genuine interest in some forgotten or unknown events in recent American history. Moreover, That Woman should be required viewing for anyone eager to witness frank and personal interpretations of the women whose lives are connected because of their relationships with the President whose life was ended tragically and abruptly on November 22, 1963.

The performances delivered by the actors who breathe life into the women are stunning. No matter how well you think you know each of the actors personally or from previous onstage performances, you will be staggered by their bold and brash performances, the authenticity and honesty each woman brings to the stage will leave you breathless and hoping for more. (In fact, I firmly believe Breen and Gimlin should lead efforts to create a more fully conceived production in which all of the women are gathered together in the same room to further amplify their voices and to illuminate their fascinating stories: at a lunch hosted by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.)

Some of the women - all of whom have been vilified, demonized and marginalized in some way by historians because of the nature of their relationships with Kennedy - will perhaps be unknown to you before you meet them in the course of the two acts of monologues that comprise That Woman, while others you have some knowledge of from their own published memoirs or by the scandalous coverage from the tabloid press.

What might be most impressive about the treatment of each of the women in That Woman is the care and grace afforded them by the actors who become them onstage and the writers who have created the always informative and sometimes deeply moving monologues that reveal their personalities and inner thoughts with such deft and assured command. Clearly, in less that two hours, you don't get the full and complete stories of the ten women profiled in this wholly original theater work, but you are certain to walk away with a sense of who each woman was and what led to her involvement with the scion of the Kennedy political dynasty.

Obviously, each of the monologues has its own structure and its own merits or shortcomings - there is more source material for some of the women than others, but director Stephanie Houghton ensures each woman is introduced with a title card that delivers some much-needed information about who she is - but each is worthy of recognition on its own. One of the production's most significant attributes is the order in which each woman is introduced, and somehow each new monologue builds upon the dramatic impact of the one that comes before it. It is surprisingly good theater despite its rather simplistic trappings.

April Hardcastle-Miles stylishly opens the evening with her performance as Inga Arvad, a Danish journalist and suspected German spy, who met JFK in 1941. Mary McCallum is next as Ellen Rometsch, an outspoken East German "goodtime girl" who was investigated by the FBI for her own suspected espionage efforts. Angela Gimlin artfully brings burlesque performer Blaze Starr to life in the next self-written segment and she is followed by Molly Breen as former White House press office intern Mimi Alford, whose revelatory 2012 memoir tells the story of her affair with Kennedy. Ibby Cizmar impresses as Priscilla Ware (known as Fiddle), a White House staffer brought to life in a monologue by Nettie Kraft, while Sofia Hernandez Morales portrays her pal Jill Cowan (who was known as Faddle in the West Wing) in the piece written by Alicia Haymer.

Review: Impressively Original THAT WOMAN Presents Stunning Portraits of Women Involved With JFK The production's next stanza features a quartet of self-penned sketches, opening with Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva's heartfelt treatment of Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the best known of the women associated with Kennedy's extramarital affairs. Dianne DeWald delivers a searing portrait of Mary Pinchot Meyer, a neighbor who allegedly became involved with JFK after her divorce from her CIA agent husband. Judith Exner is brought to vivid life by Elizabeth Turner whose subtle portrayal is remarkably moving, and Ang Madaline-Johnson closes out the production with her sensitive take on Kennedy's wife Jackie who speculates on a possible tryst between her husband and her sister, Lee Radziwill.

The writers and the actors intelligently refrain from any histrionic theatrics in relating their stories and each woman is presented skillfully to make each "character" equally accessible and authentic. The stories are told with sincerity and refreshing good humor.

We'll be seeing That Woman - The Dance Show during the upcoming week and we'll be sure to share our impressions of that with you in short order.

That Woman - The Monologue Show. Monologues from the perspectives of women involved (or rumored to be involved) with President John F. Kennedy. Directed by Stephanie Houghton. Stage managed by Renee Brank. Presented by Angela Gimlin and Tennessee Playwrights Studio at Darkhorse Theater, Nashville. For tickets and further details, go to www.tnplawrights.org/that-woman-monologue.



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