Theater Review: VIVIEN (Rogue Machine in Los Angeles)

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by Jennifer Berry Jacobson on August 25, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE MANY FACES OF VIVIEN LEIGH

The one woman play Vivien, presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre Theater, is a stunning showcase of two talents, both of which make this a recommended outing: the superlative acting of Judith Chapman and the extraordinary directorial guidance of Elina de Santos. Unfortunately, Rick Foster’s play is more like a lengthy entry in Wikipedia than an in-depth look at one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century.

Ms. Chapman, as Vivien Leigh, enters a darkened theatre in a tailored dress with her hair up in a scarf and begins to explore the acclaimed actress’ career – a life’s work which has a lot of ground to cover: her relationship with famed actor Laurence Olivier, tragic battles with manic depression, sexuality, affairs, a friendship with Katharine Hepburn, relationships with Noel Coward and Winston Churchill, stylish soirees, career struggles after turning forty, and more. As the play continues, Vivien takes down her hair and removes her clothes, literally and figuratively, reliving the triumphs and tailspins of this wounded warrior.

Vivien - Judith Chapman - Rogue Machine

Ms. Chapman is captivating and her performance completely transports us to another place in time. She embodies Vivien’s voice, physical stature, and facial expressions with such a haunting clarity that acting students would be well-advised to witness this master thespian.  Director de Santos incorporates astute staging, flawless transitions, and clever choreography in such a way that even the disrobing of clothes is eminently theatrical (costumes by Susan Pratt). Because of the wonderful collaboration between actress and director, we are treated to an experience of moving through time and space with grace and charm – a characteristic of Ms. Vivien Leigh herself.

Vivien - Judith Chapman - Rogue Machine

The well-crafted scenic design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz creates a world befitting the early twentieth century. Because some of the most private and personal moments occur when Vivien is looking into a mirror, Schwartz’ transparent set helps serve as an intimate picture frame into Vivien’s psyche, aided by the richly textured lights (Leigh Allen) and sound (Chris Moscatiello).

Because playwright Rick Foster chooses to depict ostensibly ALL of Leigh’s hardships and achievements, the play is akin to a high-speed road trip through California: we go too fast and don’t have time to stop and marvel at the majestic landscape.  The surface is skimmed on so many topics that the audience can’t really feel moved when we arrive at the end.

The most harrowing part of the play (and platform for Chapman’s talent) is Vivien’s descent into madness – a deterioration mostly caused by the harsh treatment from the prominent men in her life: Olivier not casting her in any of his movies; Kenneth Tynan ridiculing her every performance; and a paramour/director firing her from a part that would have rejuvenated her career. As we watch Chapman run around the stage, crawling the walls, and stripping off her clothes, her dramatic fall is beautifully and tragically translucent. To watch a fiery woman diminished to a tiny flame is a breathtaking experience. If only Chapman had stronger dialogue and a better-constructed foundation to support her glorious tour de force.

photos by John Flynn

Vivien
Rogue Machine Theatre
Theatre Theater, 5041 West Pico Blvd
Sat at 5; Sun at 7; Mon at 8
ends on September 4, 2011
for tickets, 855-585-5185 or visit Rogue Machine

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