‘Concealing Judy Holliday’ Pits Humor vs. Tragedy

Dan Cole, Wendy Johnson, Kevin Quinn and Terrance Elton star in Pacific Resident Theatre’s production of “Concealing Judy Holliday” by Wendy Johnson and directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos.

Wendy Johnson, the writer of “Concealing Judy Holliday”, also happens to be playing the role of Holliday in her name play. Ms. Holliday, as you may realize, is the heroine of her own story, a young actress who possibly got too much too soon, or didn’t get enough early enough, or maybe jumped ship before the boat left the harbor. Holliday was the hard-luck girl/woman who made it at a young age, then didn’t, for whatever reason, follow her early success with more success. In Johnson’s play, Holliday is dying in bed, of a virulent and murderous cancer. The time is the era of the Senate Hearings during the cold war, when it was supposed that the Communists were coming out of the woodwork, maybe just because of some casual acquaintance with The Revuers, a rag-tag gathering of musicians and story tellers who were believed to have been funded by the American Communist Party. (Not true, but who cares when such a threat may have just as well been true as not, regardless of truth or lies, the consequences were the same – no work, no references, no peace). Holliday was obviously a-political, but The Committee was looking to lay blame, and cared not on whom it fell. She was hounded by the Committee until she fell ill with cancer. Pals rallied around: Tallulah Bankhead (a saucy Sarah Zinsser), Betty Comden and Adam Green (Melinda Doyle and Terrance Elton), Laurette Taylor (Marilyn Fox), Ezio Pinza and Bob Hope (Terrance Elton), Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf and others of similar caliber and innocence, at least in that particular area. The ‘Names’ are ridiculous, but reputations were shattered, jobs and even lives were lost in the frantic name-calling that ruined many careers.

Outstanding in the production are Kevin Quinn as Gerry Mulligan and Senator Richard Arens, Dan Cole as Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, and Louella Parsons. And More. The ridiculousness of suspicion falling on all these famous heads made the whole program a huge farce, but the naming was not ever amusing. Famous names, dignified people, coming up rumpled by association, true or not.

Marilyn Fox as Judy’s hysterical old mother is a standout in her quivering runs to the oven where she intends to gas herself each time her daughter is threatened by the stern tones of the Senator at the hearings. A familiar and much honored presence at her theatre and at awards ceremonies, Ms. Fox outdoes herself here.

The action of the play is mainly in the mind of the dying girl, mixed with her own sense of not having made the most of her opportunities, although the fiercest foe is the threat of political and social extinction whatever the cause.

There’s a lot of laughter here in the face of tragedy, and a sour reminder that hurt can come without cause or concern. And, surprisingly, a lot of fun in the face of possible tragedy…more than real in the final death of the promising young woman, who no longer had the strength to withstand her mental and physical trials.

Ms. Johnson seized the moment of those terrible trials, duly refreshing a terrible memory with adept and still terrifying reality. Wow.

Scenic and lighting design by Norman Scott, sound by Edan Norman Freiberger and John
Masline, costumes by Sarah Zinsser, musical direction and original compositions by Edan Norman Freiberger; directed by Guillermo Ciuenfuegos.

Pacific Resident Theatre, 705-1/2 Venice Boulevard, Venice.
Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at
3:00pm through May 27 at 3:00pm.
(310)822-8392 or

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