A Very Bette Christmas
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
November 26, 2005
Fasten your seatbelts….
It's going to be a bumpy Christmas….
Okay, groan yes, but you need to hear the delivery! Whether or not you are a Bette Davis fan and know every one of her famous lines by heart or not, seeing five time MAC award-winning Tommy Femia in the title role of A Very Bette Christmas is definitely a present you should give yourself this year.
The hour-long play with music takes place in a television studio in 1962. A Christmas television special starring Miss Davis is trying to be made but with little success. For one, there is a raging snowstorm outside and guest stars Liberace and Brenda Lee are unable to show up and perform. The other obstacle is Miss Davis herself, dominating the director (the offstage voice of Peter Morris) and her assistant Elf (Daniel John Kelly). When she finds out that her very special guest star is to be none other than Joan Crawford, she creates some wonderful songs in her honor. One forgets how many words rhyme with "souse" and "slut."
The playwright, Elizabeth Fuller, has written about Bette Davis before in the book and play Me & Jezebel about the true events of 1985 when Davis came to dinner at her family's house in Connecticut and stayed for a month. Although I don't think the premise for this play is as interesting or open to possibilities, it makes a perfect piece for the cabaret venue Don't Tell Mama. It's meant to be a laugh a minute and director Mark S. Graham delivers the goods with fast pacing and staging. Almost all of the jokes land, a few miss the mark, like the Elf having Tourette's, but that is more the script than the delivery or timing.
Speaking of timing, watching Femia is like going to a master class for performance. His comic timing and reactions are impeccable and though he does look, sound, and act like Bette Davis (thanks in part to the wonderful costumes and hair design of Jon Jordan and makeup design of Mark Manalansan), he makes the character his own. He is as much a great actor as he is an impersonator. Daniel John Kelly as the Elf who defected from the Pushpinski Circus is very funny when he has to impersonate all of the guest stars who didn't make it. His singing voice is not strong, but he has created a very sweet character who is instantly likeable and sympathetic.
I was trying to rack my brain for a suitable Bette Davis quote to end this review. But not knowing her films extremely well, I've come up blank. I guess that helps prove that you do not have to be a Davis fanatic to thoroughly enjoy this show and be a Femia fan.