“Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies” at East of Edinburgh at 59E59 Theaters (Closed July 11, 2013)

Written by and Featuring Jessica Sherr
Directed by Janice Orlandi
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Her hair is Harlow gold, her lips sweet surprise / Her hands are never cold, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.” (Donna Weiss, Jackie DeShannon)

Jessica Sherr has those Bette Davis eyes along with remarkable Davis lookalike hair and lips. This actor utilizes all of these assets to create a winning retrospective of Bette Davis’ personal life and career. The 1939 Academy Awards ceremony on February 29, 1940 serves as bookends to an alluring and earnest memory trail of events from the actor’s rise to success. After Davis leaves the Award ceremony (having discovered from the leaked Los Angeles “Times” article she forfeits the Oscar to Vivien Leigh), she returns home where she reminisces about the vicissitudes of her dark victory.

Ms. Sherr gives performances that are both comedic and dramatic and each of them displays Bette Davis’ feisty demeanor and her distaste for weakness and persons who have nothing “to be passionate about.” Through a series of flashbacks and memories, Jessica Sherr moves the audience through Bette Davis’ experiences with and relationships with film director Willie Wyler, Carl Leammle, George Arliss, Jack Warner, Busby Berkeley, her mother Ruthie, her “sissy” husband Harmon O. Nelson, and her lover Howard Hughes.

Following the credo of the star she portrays, Jessica Sherr displays her willingness to take big gambles throughout her ninety-minute performance. It is not an easy task to embody a star as “big” as Bette Davis but Sherr manages to shy away from “playing it safe.” Her willingness to “go out on a limb” pays off. There are times the actor’s delivery loses the bite of the Yankee Davis but overall her performance is authentic and gracious. Ms. Sherr proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that “you cannot keep a good Yankee down.”

The vignettes are prompted by and separated by sound and lighting cues which, unfortunately, all too often are not precise and become intrusive. Sound cues cut off so abruptly the audience envisions a stage manager fumbling with script and soundboard while searching for the correct lighting cues. Sound running throughout the performance with appropriate crescendo/decrescendo cues would work better and serve the performance more creatively. Director Janice Orlandi is clearly capable of making these fixes.