Untarnished by time

The lovely, the talented: Danielle King and Jericho T. English in Hollywood and Time. Courtesy photo.
and Time
8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun
Through May 27
$12 general; $9 student
(50 percent discount for members)
Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star

It is probably inappropriate (and impossible, besides) for me, a critic, to give a production a hug, but still, I’d like to extend an imaginary one to Hollywood and Time. The final play from San Antonio’s own Sterling Houston, who passed away last November, Hollywood and Time is a deftly written collection of four vignettes on fading glory and failing marriages, naturally — for if any force is more cruel than time, it’s Hollywood.

The directors’ notes describe Sterling as a playwright who was “more interested in the stories people tell themselves than in the facts of the matter.” It makes sense then that the tie that binds Hollywood and Time is Blanche DuBois, or variations on her character: a self-deceiving, damaged, diminished beauty.  

Hollywood and Time is a play for theater-lovers and cinephiles, a fact made apparent from the first by crackles of projector light above the stage, which after a bit of investigating, are revealed as tiny, reflective discs hung at random. Strangely, their depth is ultimately more satisfying than the actual flecks of white that dance on the silver screen painted on the back wall of the stage.

What follows these small bursts of light, however, is deeply gratifying. ¿Que Pasa Con La Niña Juanita? a high-larious Spanglish version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, filmed beautifully in high-contrast black and white. The story of an aging child actor in a decaying mansion sets the tone of Hollywood perfectly. (Jane’s sister, Blanche `Blanca here`, was originally portrayed by SA-born Joan Crawford, incidentally).

Silent-film clips handsomely enhance the transitions between vignettes, and after a brief pause we enter the world of Lupe Vélez, a film actress whose work was overshadowed by her dynamic love life and grim death (which Andy Warhol would eventually make a movie about). Monessa Esquivel nails the part of the “Mexican Spitfire” with proud body language and a great accent. More importanly, we are as convinced as she is that Harald Maresch is going to marry her after she and Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer and Tarzan portrayer; played here by the wonderfully funny Navid Afshar) are divorced.

Next we are transported to a lonely room. We observe a man from behind, slouched, perhaps drunkenly, in a chair. This man is Tennessee Williams on the last day of his life, and he is imagining, or seems to be, a series of conversations with his very good friend, writer Gore Vidal. As in the previous act, the fourth wall is broken. “You think I sound like Blanche?” Tennessee, as played by Rick Frederick, asks us in a rich southern accent, referring to his famous character from A Streetcar Named Desire. And he is Blanche, altering her most renowned line to “I’ve always depended on the kindness of hustlers.”

After another pause we reach Hollywood and Time’s finale, “Dinner at 8:30 CPT.” This portion doesn’t jive with the show’s fading-starlet theme (although a very Blanche dressing screen graces stage left) — Margo, the main character, is in her prime — but this depiction of Hollywood’s golden age from an African-American perspective is a delight, just the same. I shouldn’t say too much, lest I say it all — suffice it to say “8:30” rounds things out on a lively, playful note.

Altogether, I can’t speak highly enough of this performance. The sound design was impressive, the costumes ideal, and the direction astute.  If Mr. Houston is looking on from somewhere — as his face, delicately shaded into the stage’s moon is — he must be very proud. 


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