By David Walters
Do you remember who Harriet Shapiro, George Brewer, Carl Switzer, or Barbara Redfield were and what they were known for in Hollywood? Probably not. But here’s a chance to spend their last tragic 48 hours on this earth with them. But only if you want to walk out of the theater feeling down, depressed, and determined never to drink alcohol again.
Feeling down because these four lives, though all touched by celebrity, ended so tragically either by their hand or their own actions. Depressed because this play is such a mess on all levels that when it’s over you feel like you can finally escape thankful for having lost only two hours of your life. And determined, because alcohol played so prominently in each of their downfalls.
Susan Cabot (Shapiro) was known for her role in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye with James Cagney and went downhill from there to appear in The Wasp Woman; George Reeves (Brewer), struggled to have a film career but was only recognized as television’s Superman; Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer who could not get beyond his “Our Gang” fame; and Barbara Payton (Redfield) who fizzled out after starring in pictures besides Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, and Lloyd Bridges.
Ode To The Wasp Woman is four vignettes, with a cover song thrown in each one that acts as a respite from the inevitable tragedy. They are linked by a bit of introduction from the previous vignette’s dead person. The set is incomprehensible, jammed with furniture that gets moved about in semi-darkness by two sinister Estragon and Vladimir lookalikes, constant smoke being pumped out on the stage (to give the production a memory feel?), and highlights two main up-center entrance doors with two huge crosses, funeral home like, that do not figure into any of the vignettes.
Playwright/director, Rider McDowell, was once an investigative reporter and it shows as there is no depth in his writing beyond reporting. The actors do their best to fill their characters with humanity (and succeed when they stop acting and sing and when they verbally set up the next vignette), but overall the emoting is cringe-worthy, B-movie-worthy.
Then again, with the story being four B-movie actors, I may have missed the point of this production as everything about it is B, from the subject matter onward. Maybe everything was purposely designed to be of a lesser quality. Perhaps, despite how I feel, it will become a cult classic in its B-ness. But I doubt it.
Forwood C. Wiser presents Ode To The Wasp Woman, written and directed by Rider McDowell. Now playing through January 31, 2023, at The Actors Temple Theatre (339 W. 47th St, NYC). Tickets are on sale at Telecharge.com
Scenic design by Christian Fleming; lighting design by Maarten Cornelis; costume design by Pearl Gopalani; Ms. Young’s costumes designed by Montgomery Frazier; and sound design by Bob’ The Hammer’ Franco.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.