There’s the striking first image of Ms. Massie from behind a scrim that is soon raised. She is grandly posing à la Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in a gorgeous vintage gown, bedecked with diamonds, and wearing glittering high heels. With dark, styled hair and her face appropriately made up, Massie physically resembles Hedy Lamarr, visually conveying the essence of the star.
Simulating Lamarr’s, cheery, sing-song, slight European accent, Massie vivaciously holds forth for 90 minutes. Loaded with charm, charisma and employing her animated features and expressive eyes, Massie dramatically and comically enacts this eventful life story.
I have been called, glamorous, The Most Beautiful Woman in The World. But there’s no secret to glamour. “Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
Her ample and focused research is imparted through the whimsical conceit that Lamarr exists in a metaphysical dimension, addressing and engaging the audience directly. This also involves bustling through the theater with the poise of a polished stand-up comedian to banter.
George Sanders, Max Reinhardt, Charles Boyer, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Howard Hughes and Bette Davis are among the celebrities of whom Massie briefly and expertly offers impressions.
The stage is minimally set with strategically placed tables and chairs and a coatrack. The show illustratively begins with film clips of Lamarr with humorous subtitles that are shown on the stage’s back wall. It’s the chief feature of Jim and Charles Marlowe’s accomplished projection design.
Alex Moore’s moody lighting contributes to the ethereal quality with its muted eeriness. Jacob Subotnick’s sound design adeptly blends music and effects into a vibrant aural accompaniment.
Director Blake Walton’s precise staging infuses the production with picturesque imagery and depth, elevating it from just being a recitation. Mr. Walton and Leslie Kincaid Burby are credited as artistic consultants.
From 1938’s Algiers to Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah in 1949, Hedy Lamarr was a major star during The Golden Age of Hollywood. Between these were such notable films as Boom Town, Comrade X, Ziegfeld Girl, and Tortilla Flat. During W.W. II she sold seven million dollars of war bonds by charging $25,000 for a kiss. Her last major success was in 1951’s My Favorite Spy, co-starring with Bob Hope.
She was born in Vienna in 1914 of Jewish background. She became an actress as a young girl and became well known at the age of 18, for her nude appearance in 1933 film Ecstasy. MGM chieftain Louis B. Mayer brought her to Hollywood in 1938.
The show also explores Lamarr’s improbable career as an inventor. She and composer George Antheil held a patent for a miniaturized player-piano mechanism that was synchronized with radio signals. They donated it to the U.S. Navy who neglected it. This technology was instrumental to the U.S. Defense Department in dealing with The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Their invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, CDMA, GPS, Bluetooth and military satellites.
There were six marriages and divorces, charges of shoplifting that were later dropped, reclusiveness, litigiousness and excessive plastic surgery before her death at the age of 85 in Florida in 2000.
Pouncing on such a relatively obscure and fascinating historical figure, Heather Massie delivers a fresh and bold biographical treatment through her dynamic acting and informative script that is all highly enjoyable.
Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr (through June 30, 2017)
Presented as part of the 2017 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
The LaTea Theater at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.planetconnections.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission