Concealing Judy Holiday by Dale Reynolds –

The late actress Judy Holliday (nee Tuvim) died of breast cancer in 1965, just short of her 44th birthday. She was a Broadway star who was given a surprise Oscar gift in 1951 for her starring role (opposite William Holden) in “Born Yesterday,” as Billy Dawn, the template for the “dumb blonde.” Her death was prolonged and saddening to those of us who loved her work.

Now, after a gestation period of some years, actress/writer Wendy Johnson has produced a semi-surreal biographical drama about this remarkable actor. Opening as Holliday is in her final days/hours of painful death. Ms. Johnson allows her to dream/ fantasize about her life: her over-bearing mother, her husbands, female lover, career, etc. The play weaves skillfully in and around her history. She has included the famous actress/personality, Tallulah Bankhead, as well as the dark days when she was hauled up in front of the corrupt House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which famously destroyed or maimed artists’ careers for belonging to the then-legal Communist Party. Advised by her friends to act out for them the dumb-blonde role she had perfected on stage, she was not harmed as much as others had been, but was blacklisted on television and on radio. but
not in films or on stage.

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos has cleverly staged this small and intimate drama in the tiny black-box theatre of Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice by putting the deathbed center stage and placing all the action around it. Norman Scott’s scenic and lighting designs support his vision, as do Sarah Zinsser’s costumes.

But it is in the casting that this play rises to its highest-possible level: starting with Wendy Johnson herself as Judy Holliday, with varied levels of her emotional involvement with Ms. Holliday’s life startlingly true and funny when needed: she gets Ms. Holliday’s giggle and voice patterns, along with big eyes which reflect the action amazingly. Marilyn Fox’s Helen Tuvim (and briefly as the great Laurette Taylor in “The Glass Menagerie” – in a biographical play Ms. Holliday was too ill to complete) plays up the Jewish-mother guilt without caricature, indeed observing the mother’s great dependency on her famous daughter with quiet accuracy. Sarah Zinsser’s Bankhead also captures a famous image without the over-the-top quality of the lady herself – a fine characterization. Melody Doyle, Terrance Elton and Dan Cole are extraordinary in their wide variety of characters, famous and otherwise.

This is a special show that undoubtedly has a longer life ahead of itself. See this while you can – it’s fun, informative and sad. Great theatre, in fact.

“Concealing Judy Holliday” plays through May 27th, 2012, at the Pacific Resident Theatre,  705 1/2 Venice Blvd (west of Lincoln Blvd), Venice. Tickets: 310.822.8392 or at

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