BWW Review: CLARA BOW: BECOMING 'IT' BY LIVEARTDC at Capital Fringe
LiveArtDC is unpredictable; grassroots theatre at its best. The Merry Death of Robin Hood, staged and set in a DC bar, was wacky, immersive, heartfelt, and hands-down one of my favorite theatre experiences of 2016. Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' is their Capital Fringe Festival 2017 offering.
In 1921, Clara Bow was launched to stardom after winning Motion Picture Magazine's "Fame and Fortune" competition. In the 1920s every aspect of her personal life made newspaper headlines and she became a living, breathing symbol of the Roaring 20s.
So what exactly is the "it" factor that Clara possessed in abundance and furthermore, is becoming "it" even worth it? The audience is left to answer for themselves.
Director/Producer Heather Whitpan describes Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' as a "magical biography." She goes further; in her scenario LiveArtDC is a "Time Lord." That is hands down the most out-there description of a play I've ever heard, yet it's not wholly inaccurate.
The central plot of Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' is Clara's (Rebecca Ellis) true-to-life multiple-round screen tests for the "Fame and Fortune" contest. As she progresses through each round of the contest, the play jumps backwards or forwards in time (remember, the "Time Lord" thing). Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' navigates the complexities of Clara's life as a star, the relationship between Clara and her mentally ill mother Sarah (standout actress Charlene V. Smith), and the betrayals of her female friends, Tui Lorraine and Daisy Devoe (Maggie Robertson).
The men in her life are even worse. Her sleazebag manager and opportunist father (Seth Alcorn) and her boyfriend Gary Cooper and husband Rex Bell (Nick Depinto) continually manipulate and marginalize Clara.
The audience is given a glimpse of the eccentric Elinor Glyn (Charlene V. Smith) in action. If you don't already know about Elinor Glyn, she is worth Googling (look for Elinor Glynn Explains IT!).
Whitpan and Writer/Projections Designer Alia Faith Williams utilize snippets of Clara's movies (as well as the footage of Glyn), often juxtaposed against the stage actors in the foreground, playacting the original roles onscreen. For the historians in the audience (like me) it is thrilling, dynamic, and the most engaging aspect of Clara Bow: Becoming 'It.'
Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' was notable for the caliber of the acting. Smith's portrayal of two eccentric and wholly singular characters is noteworthy. Ellis, the "it girl" herself, oozes charisma and unflappable flapper charm. The accents in this production are markedly expert.
The ensemble cast includes Brett Stevens Abelman, Andrew Quilpa, and Nora Spellane (as a sympathetic newsie).
Lighting Designer Peter Caress deserves kudos for smart light sequences that stand-in for an old-timey camera (beautifully fabricated but fake) and cameraman. As Ellis strikes her uncanny Clara flapper poses in front of the cameraman and camera, the light sequence has a transportable effect.
Costumes, Set, and Prop Designer Lorraine Imwold uses glitzy eye-catching signature costume pieces for each character which allows basic costumes to be recycled as actors swiftly change roles. Likewise, Imwold recycles a few choice set pieces. The audience is required to use their imagination; more than acceptable in the cramped Trinidad Theater at Capital Fringe.
Clara Bow: Becoming 'It' suffered from a range of technical glitches that are not uncommon to the Fringe Festival experience. Thankfully, Ellis was a star and remained unfazed when a projection cut out at an inopportune moment.
I found the venue, the Trinidad Theater, which is not wholly soundproof and located next to the Capital Fringe bar, distracting and perhaps not the best choice for such a contemplative production. But this is a minor detail and should not stop you from seeing Clara Bow: Becoming 'It."
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
For more information on show times and tickets for CLARA BOW: BECOMING 'IT' click here.