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A CurtainUp Review

Jackie: An American Life

Imagine for a moment that you're a producer and a playwright pitched this idea to you:
I've got an idea for a new way to at once feed into the American public's obsession with celebrity watching and satirize it. Since Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis has been the ultimate in celebrity icons--first lady, heroic widow, key player in a modern Greek drama, always unknowable but known to all-- I'll use her as my central character. However, instead of yet another Jackie O Bio adapted for the stage, I'll do it as a spoof complete with cartoon settings and characters to lampoon the major players in her life.

If you've got a taste for the commercial, it may just make you sit up in your swivel chair. After all, no one seems to have lost money on buying into the Jackie-myth. And now that Jackie is dead, maybe the time is ripe for a dramatized spoof -- especially if we can get a clever set designer to back this idea with visual pizazz.

With the support of just such a clever set designer, David Gallo, plus dozens of small to giant-sized puppets from the Big Nazo Studio, playwright and director Gipp Hoppe's concept for a biographic lampoon has gained altitude as a full-length Broadway play. However, as Gallo's ingenious sets for Bunny Bunny earned him three major awards but failed to keep that play alive Off-Broadway, the sets cannot lift this production beyond the level attainable by skit shows masquerading as plays. Neither can the talented cast. Each actor is a wizard of sorts, rotating from one easily recognized character to another with the speed of a propeller. Only the two central characters, Margaret Colin who plays Jackie and Victor Slezak who plays Jack Kennedy, (but looks more like Gary Hart), stick to a single role.

At its best Jackie: An American Life rises to the laughs inspired by its most inventive visual jokes. The reenactment of modern Greek tragedy featuring Gretchen Egolf as a maniacally funny Christina Onassis will rouse laughs from even the most stoically poker-faced members of the audience. Equally amusing is a Goliath-like Joseph Kennedy lording it over his hyper-active clan and Lilliputian, rosary twirling wife; and, in the second act, an equally colossus-sized Rupert Murdock as God of Tabloid Journalism.

To give the show a further entry into the plus side of the critical ledger, there's Margaret Colin, as the star who dominates the madcap ensemble. As Jacqueline Kennedy managed to maintain her dignity in the face of the relentless paparazzi circus surrounding her every move, so Ms. Colin manages to retain her dignity as an actress who belongs on the stage of the beautiful Belasco Theater, even as this stretched-out skit does not.

That's not to say, that Jackie might not find a steady audience in spite of its less-than-impressive theatrical cachet. After all, it has already enjoyed considerable success at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Boston. And for sure, the audience at the performance I attended, seemed to be having a rip-roaring good time. When you consider how often H. L. Mencken has been proved correct with his much quoted "you can't go wrong underestimating the taste of the American public," this may just be the perfect show for those looking for a theatrical experience without having to worry about whether they'll get it.

Written and Directed by Gip Hoppe
Starring Margaret Colin as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
With (in alphabetical order) Bill Camp, Sam Catlin, Thomas Derrah, Gretchen Egolf, Lisa Emery, Linda Marie Larson, Kristine Nielsen, Victor Slezak, Derek Smith, Kent Adams and Maggie Moore
Scenic Design by David Gallo
Costume Design by Susan Santoian
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by J. Hagenbuckle
Puppet Design by The Big Nazo Studio
Hair Design by Don Swanson
JFK Suits by Fioravanti
Performances From 11/03/97; opening 11/10/97 Belasco, 111 W. 44 St., (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 11/15/97
Closing 3/01/98 after 128 performances

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