The long-standing animosity between two of the biggest stars of Hollywood's golden era, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, was the stuff of legend. Some wags attributed the actresses' rancor to professional jealousy; others say it was the result of Crawford's unrequited love for Davis. Whatever the cause, it made for fun speculation and a legacy of hilarious, biting one-liners.
Bitchslap!, written by Darrin Hagen and making its West Coast premiere at Macha Theatre in West Hollywood, provides a juicy selection of these one-liners as it recreates the history of the Crawford/Davis feud, culminating with the making of the 1962 thriller, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, the only film they made together.
Appropriately staged like a cabaret act, Bitchslap! provides an evening of campy fun as Crawford (Michael Taylor Gray) and Davis (C. Stephen Foster) retrace their parallel careers via frequent interviews with super-powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Therese McLaughlin).
To say the cast is game would be an understatement. Gray, dressed as Mildred Pierce, is a commanding, determined Crawford, and Foster, decked out in the familiar All About Eve cocktail party gown, is a brassy, no-nonsense Davis. They touch upon the high and low points in their lives, sneering at each others' successes (and gloating at the failures) as McLaughlin's Hopper helpfully provides background color for each passing era.
Ultimately, Crawford brings Davis the perfect project for them to do together – Baby Jane – and the second act is comprised of hilarious recreations of the filming, with the stars doing retake after retake, each bitchily criticizing the other's performance and pleading with the director to take her side.
A nice concluding touch is Hopper's decision not to print the dirt she's dug up during the making of the film, having realized that old Hollywood is fading away and she'd prefer to see these two warhorses go out with some dignity.
Bitchslap! works in two ways: for newbies, it provides a capsule history of the careers of the two divas as their mutual dislike grew; for aficionados, it's packed with the zingers they demand, delivered with relish by Gray and Foster. It's breezily staged by director Odalys Nanin and is punctuated with projected film clips of the actual stars, highlighted – of course – by a riotous slapping montage.
Bitchslap! plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 p.m. (with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. on June 3 and 17) through June 17 at Macha Theatre/Films, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 960-7724.