Imagine you have fifteen minutes to interact with any dead celebrity. Who would you choose? There are the obvious choices: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Ghandi, and JFK. What if their press agents in the sky told you they were unavailable? Would you settle for Christine Jorgensen, Bobby Sands, and Brownie Wise? Do you even know who they are?
Kristin Stone does, and she wants you to get to know them. Inside Private Lives is her attempt to bring these characters to life and expose them rather directly to theatre-going audiences. This interactive show is an hour of conversation between a nightly-rotating cast of long-gone C-listers and anyone who has paid to see the show. If youre the kind of person that was uncomfortable being called on in class without having raised your hand, then this is not the show for you.
There is an interesting dynamic going on with Inside Private Lives. On the one hand, the performances are all exceptional. The actors are very talented and completely familiar with the history of the characters they are portraying and, as such, have no difficulty improvising their conversations with the audience in a historically accurate and comfortable manner. On the other hand, because some of the characters chosen are not necessarily conducive to comedy and the fate of each individual performance is left in the hands of the audience, the room is often covered in a blanket of complete awkwardness. This isnt aided by the fact that some of the characters are so obscure, that people dont really know what to say to them. A few minutes into the performance, I actually found myself more fascinated by the people around me than by the performers themselves. All over their faces you could see expressions ranging from, Please dont call on me to Please make that guy in the corner stop talking.
The highlight of the entire show was a performance by Mary McDonald as Marge Schott, the obliviously racist and eccentric former owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Half the audience didnt have a clue who she was, but it didnt seem to matter. Her exceptional comedic timing and her ability to engage the audience into conversation without making them uncomfortable was an experience in itself. Sadly, last I heard, Marge will not be part of the Edinburgh run.
In the end, Stones theatrical concept is a clever one. I applaud her efforts to bring something new and refreshing to the theatre. In a world where she could pre-screen her audience, she might have a hit. Alas, no such world exists (nor would we want it to).
Fritzie reviewed the Edinburgh preview of the show in New York at 59e59