Morgana Shaw embodies a movie icon; plus a riotous, ‘Endless Love’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
The flinty glow from a Marlboro Menthol is the only illumination, then shards of lightning briefly frame the figure. Our glimpses are glancing, but definitive: The silhouette, the bangs, the pursed lips, the hat — that hat! Then a croaking delivery that can only come from one person. “Aren’t there any gay men in the audience?” For these few moments, you’d bet the farm that it’s Bette Davis come back to life.
But actually, it’s better. We get Morgana Shaw, massaging, interpreting, embodying, modulating the notoriously prickly, and just as famously brilliant, Warner Bros. actress — until Meryl Streep, the consensus pick for the finest film performer ever, and even post-Meryl, Hollywood’s most iconic movie star. Those are huge heels to walk into, yet Shaw does it to perfection. She looks every day of the 81-year-old Davis, at the end of her career and life, giving what seems to be one final performance to the gape-mouthed delight of the 60 gathered audience members at the Margo Jones Theater in Fair Park’s Magnolia Lounge.
But just as quickly, Shaw sheds the wig and Edith Head satin dress, steps into a pair of pumps and applies jungle red lipstick and voila! The ingénue Ruth Elizabeth Davis, on her way to acting legitimacy and enduring fame.
This isn’t the first time Shaw has tackled this role, but this production of All About Bette — savvily written by Camilla Carr and sharply designed and directed by Ryan Matthieu Smith — is a singular tour-de-force. Solo shows can be tricky to pull off; my attention span usually wanes irretrievably within about 50 minutes. But Shaw does 50 minutes times two, and not a second of it wasted. She holds our attention with charisma and fire, telling her one-sided but upfront version of her four marriages, her spiteful daughter, her co-stars good (Claude Rains, Olivia deHavilland) and bad (Errol Flynn and Joan Crawford predictably suffer the most barbs). There’s a ton of material to cover, but the script hits the highlights and doesn’t miss the campy high points: “What a dump.” “Fasten your seatbelts.” The tragic shit show of her Baby Jane song “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.” Shaw delivers the goods on every one.
All About Bette plays in Dallas only through Saturday, but it will recur three more times this summer: At Fort Worth’s Stage West (Aug. 11–12), Addison’s Stone Cottage (Aug. 18–26) and Grand Prairie’s Uptown Theatre (dates pending). If you miss it this weekend, don’t cheat yourself by skipping one of the others. You don’t want to incur Bette’s wrath.
It takes four actors to handle the material in Matt Lyle’s A Brief, Endless Love, a series of short comedic sketches delivered Second City-style at the Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum. New parents realize how grossly unprepared they are to rear a human being. Siblings gather for a funeral where one of them outs himself over and over. A doctor takes the adage “laughter is the best medicine” to surgically unreliable extremes. It’s all so quick-witted and clever, you can overlook the rare missteps (an extended joke about the word “vows”). There are one-liners about bathroom bills, a return of the mad doctor from Lyle’s Hello Human Female, and the brisk comic timing of Jeff Swearingen, Jeremy Whiteker, Kim Lyle and Steph Garrett. The show plays Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 10:20 p.m., and the consumption of alcohol is encouraged before, during and after. Endless Love is more than standup but less than a full-on theater commitment, a jaunty breather at the end of a week. Catch it while you can.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 09, 2017.