An Evening with Lola Montez
OK, so maybe you've had enough of fake news for one lifetime; but let me tell you, the Fringe Festival this year features one of the most exquisite lies you'll ever see. And it's worth every penny.
Playwright Richard Byrne, who made a splash a few years ago with another great show about lying liars, Nero/Pseudo, has hit the boards again with a show dedicated to the memory of one of the 19th century's most famous self-made women, Eliza Gilbert - or, as she was known throughout Europe in her prime, Lola Montez. Byrne's latest effort, An Evening With Lola Montez, is as intricately-constructed a play and persona as you can possibly imagine, and actor Mary Murphy personifies to perfection the low-born Irish divorcée who became a sensation through little more than grit, and a determination to rise above her wretched circumstances.
Montez, like many other aspiring artists then and now, was forced to rely on her ingenuity rather than a pedigree-or even professional training-in order to have a stage career. Her famous "Spider Dance" attracted a passionate male following from Paris to St. Petersburg, but it wasn't necessarily for its artistry as much as its appeal to male fantasy (as for what the women thought of it, well, ...).
Off stage she established a reputation as more than just a pretty face, engaging men intellectually as well as romantically. In her prime she attracted many followers and lovers, composer/pianist Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I of Bavaria most famously. Her career also coincided with one of Europe's most turbulent eras, the revolts of 1848, and her persona was such that she could be a populist one minute, and a patsy of the royalist elites the next. (Where she really stood is anyone's guess.)
Byrne has constructed a script requiring the actor to master an elite-sounding accent that is not necessarily her own (Murphy nicely captures Montez's occasional slip into her native Irish brogue) while projecting a highly-refined ballerina-like carriage. He has Montez lecturing an American audience in the late 1850's about her life and career, in an attempt to correct the record in the scandalous press and present herself as a dignified professional, her less-than-virginal reputation notwithstanding.
Director DeLisa M. White has crafted Murphy's performance to a very high degree - given that this is a re-enactment of a classic 19th-century concert hall lecture, White has found ways to keep Montez' persona in the foreground with an intricate sequence of gestures and poses. Not a moment or a word is wasted here, creating a tightly-packed gem of a 1-hour show.
Then as now, PR has precious little to do with fact - Montez's generation included none other than P. T. Barnum, and that other fabulous female fake, Adah Isaacs Mencken - but Montez understood better than most that a lie, well-executed, not only rings true but is better than the truth. Montez needed admirers, audiences needed someone to admire, and she crafted her later, lecturing persona to create and curate just the right kind of admiration.
An Evening With Lola Montez is one of the most fascinating Fringe shows I've seen; and although it's only going to see one more show early this Saturday evening, here's hoping there is a revival on our stage soon.
Production Photo: Mary Murphy as Lola Montez. Photograph by Edward Hancox.
Running Time: 60 minutes without intermission.
An Evening With Lola Montez has only one more show, folks - Saturday, July 27, at 6:30 PM in the Ocean space at Christ United Methodist Church, 900 4th St., SW -- just one block north of the Waterfront SW Metro Station.
For information on tickets and festival passes, phone 866-811-4111 or visit www.capitalfringe.org