Wednesday, May 2, 2012

End of the Rainbow: Car Crash Porn

For some it might be enough to watch someone re-enact Judy Garland's final days in an Unsolved Mysteries style "dramatization."  But End of the Rainbow reminded me a lot of Magic/Bird, as both are biographical plays currently on Broadway and both lack any real dramatic thrust forward leaving a talented cast out in the cold. Written by Peter Quilter and directed by Terry Johnson, End of the Rainbow left me wanting a richer theatrical experience.

Tracie Bennett plays the foul-mouthed, excitable Garland as she tries to put together a concert series in London with the help of her new fiancĂ© Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey) and her old accompanist Anthony (Michael Cumpsty). She struggles to stay off drugs and alcohol but eventually falls back into her old ways.  Torn between the man she loves who needs her to perform and the gay man who loves her and wants her to stop, Judy is the addict and pawn we've always imagined her to be.


Despite Bennett's visceral performance and energetic rendering of Garland onstage and off, I found the play tedious.  It was not enough to show her sober, falling apart and attempting to put on her concert under those circumstances.  Nothing came as a surprise.  We know she is going to fall off the wagon at some point and she did not make much of a sympathetic character to begin with.  Watching Deans force feed her pills was despicable but felt practically inevitable.  Bennett is throwing ever fiber of her being into the performance but sadly it felt little more than a convincing reenactment--not a dramatic play.

The play, like Magic/Bird, is practically non-existent here.  Cumpsty has the difficult role of trying to convince us that Judy, without her enablers, would be a kitten worth bringing home.  But not even Judy seems to believe that would be true.  The play sets him up as keeping his distance from her.  There is an about-face where his emotional investment shifts.  Cumpsty plays this as best as he can but I did not buy the dramatic turnaround.  Frankly, his character seemed to be more of a symbol than a person. I found the whole gay savior scenario a strange indulgence into fantasy that again might have meant something if the character had been remotely developed.  Pelphrey is obviously playing a dreadful character but he did not breathe much life into the role.

My boredom gave way to frustration as the play went on and failed to evolve.  Sadly Bennett's performance is not enough to save this show or even make it worth recommending unless you are a connoisseur of all things Judy.  At least in Magic/Bird, there were some laughs.  The laughs at End of the Rainbow were few.



1 comment:

  1. And just a note ... this play is boring and troubling if you are, as I am, a connoisseur of all things Judy. For my money, the real fans of Garland the performer are not fans of this mess of a play. Enjoyed reading your reactions tremendously.

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