The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign.
Written, performed and produced by Joanne Hartstone. Directed by Vince Fusco. Lighting and production design by Tom Kitney.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Joanne Hartstone in The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign
Evelyn Edwards dreams of becoming an actress in the heady world of Hollywood. It is the Golden Age, the era of the big studios and the big stars. It is Dreamworld, where dreams can come true. But not for poor unnoticeable Evie Edwards. Not for the messenger girl from the back lots. Not for the orphaned young hopeful struggling to survive. Not for the girl in the low cut dress with carefully styled blonde hair whose daddy called her his Jean Harlow. Not for an innocent in the world of ambitious men.
Knuckles whiten on the side of the Hollywood sign, followed by a frightened face and a body in a black dress. Far above the City of Angels where devils of despair lurk in the dark shadows of the Dream Factory, Evie has climbed, as Peg Entwhistle did in 1924 to………? That we can only surmise as Hartstone in a blackout leaves us on the edge of expectation.
It’s a tale we’ve heard a hundred times before – of broken dreams and shattered lives. But not like this. Not with such emotional truth;not with a roller-coaster ride of feelings, rising to the crest of hopeful possibility and plummeting to the depths of reality, rolling along the rails of innocence into the pit of naivety, only to pick oneself up and resume the steep climb towards the impossible star.
For a little over an hour in a monologue interspersed with songs of the period, Hartstone recounts Evelyn’s sorry tale that has brought her to the very edge. All disbelief is willingly suspended as we feel for her loss of a mother, a father and anyone who cared, share her grief, wish for her success and revile the circumstances that intimidate and humiliate. Her fate is ugly; her future bleak.
Hartstone and director Vince Fusco thread a tightly woven narrative of authenticity through the script, played with conviction by a mercurial actor who compels us to share every moment of her tortured life and excited dreams. In a masterstroke of writing, it is not Evie that is judged but her oppressors, the men who exploit, the men who deceive, the men with the power to make or break, the pariahs of the movie mogul world. Evie’s dreams are built on fantasy and illusion. Her nightmare is the cruel lesson of reality.
And far above the city below and on top of the Hollywood sign she can take control and end it all. Hartstone holds her audience rapt as she brims with hope, wails in grief, struggles to conform to expectation, jitterbugs with delight at the prospect of success and sings with the soul of Holiday and the longing of Garland. She knows the dreadful fates of Theda Bara and Jean Harlow, but clings to a different dream that we know will never come true.
Hartstone gives a haunting, mesmerizing and thoroughly captivating performane as the ill-fated hopeful. The songs are sung without a mike, heightening a sense of innocence and truth. Is it cabaret? It is performed in a small space. It is intimate. Above all it touches the heart and instructs the mind. It is cabaret that snaps with a bitter bite at false illusion. It is truly cabaret and a highlight of my festival visit.