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Theater Review (LA): Inside Privates Lives

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You’ll be asked to turn off your cell phones, but for the Sunday evening performances of Inside Private Lives at the Fremont Centre Theatre, you don’t have to zip your lips. Backtalk is heavily encouraged.

After all, the six people who will make up the bill are from a cast of sixteen newsmakers who often sought attention.

The cast of characters, all from the 20th century, changes from night to night. While they break the fourth wall to speak, touch, and even dance with audience members, they do not interact with each other. One character at a time tells his or her story.

The night I attended, Kristin Stone opened the evening as Christine Jorgensen, the first transgender "personality." During her heyday in the 1950s, the joke was: "Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad." Jorgensen is disappointed to find that Playboy isn’t interested in having her as a centerfold, and chides the audience members (as Hugh Hefner and other Playboy-related people) for their lack of interest. Stone is charming and polished, the model of the June Cleaver-type of woman who was just naughty enough to become a nightclub act (Jorgensen died in 1989).

Adam LeBow was a sincere young Elia Kazan, who is meeting with friends from his Communist cell. He’s been called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he will names names, an act that will save him from being blacklisted but would follow him for decades.

While Kazan and Jorgensen are polite, Leonora Gershman’s Julia Phillips is a foul-mouthed, bitter woman on cocaine, railing at the executives who are firing her even though she won an Academy Award in 1973 for producing The Sting (an honor shared with Tony Bill and her then-husband Michael Phillips). She also was one of the producers of 1977's Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and would, in 1991, write You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, a book that named high-profile names in Hollywood and topped the New York Times bestseller list.

For those who don’t remember, former President Jimmy Carter had a younger brother, Billy (Bryan Safi), who was best known for swilling beer and behaving badly. With his brother running for re-election, Billy has just been told he won’t be allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and proceeds to get drunk.

David Shofner as David Koresh isn’t mesmerizing, but he does have the kind of confidence one would expect from a man who was accused of taking young girls as wives and concubines and who made Waco, Texas a fiery inferno in 1993. Shofner’s Koresh has just announced the abolishment of all marital bonds and his intention to become the husband of all the faithful women.

Mary MacDonald as Marge Schott has come before a committee in hopes of being cleared to adopt a child. The infamously foul-mouthed former owner of the Cincinnati Reds was well known for her love of her St. Bernard, her racist slurs, and her praise of Hitler, who she believed began well but just went too far. MacDonald’s Schott is a tough woman, who wants to be one of the boys and is utterly oblivious to the effects of her cringe-worthy sentiments.

Phillips died in 2002, Kazan in 2003, Carter in 1988, and Schott in 2004 None of the characters are living.

Other characters who might appear on different nights are King Edward VIII (Freddy Douglas), Ann Landers (Diana Morrison), evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson (Molly Hagan), channeler of the spirit “Seth” Jane Roberts, (Maddisen Krown), Tupperware Home Sales innovator Brownie Wise (Eileen O'Connell), IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands (Paul Thomas Ryan), and the woman Edward gave up his throne for, Wallis Simpson (Sheila Wolf). (Ann Landers will be added in late October.)

Under the direction of Lee Michael Cohn, the segments are funny, and generally they flow, although with audience participation some of the pacing is unpredictable. On the night I attended, the performers handled the questions and minor heckling with grace and in character.

Originally opening in Los Angeles in October 2006, this production was performed in New York City, and was part of the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Inside Private Lives continues until sometime in November at the Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, Sundays at 7 PM. General admission, $25; seniors and students $20. Call (866) 811-4111.

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