Adelaide Fringe. Noel Lothian Hall, Adelaide Botanic Garden. 11 Mar 2017
Joanne Hartstone has a distinguished track record in Adelaide Fringes as both a performer and an artistic director, and the excellence goes on. Here she presents an original work imagining a hopeful actress of the MGM Hollywood heyday. She tells the story of (stage name) Evie Edwards who grows up in the Great Depression in a shantytown called Hooverville where a compassionate landlady provides a strong musical influence. When she's eighteen her handyman single father takes her to Los Angeles and she finds work as an MGM messenger girl and thus gets entree to entertain the servicemen at Bette Davis' and Jules Stein’s famous Hollywood Canteen during World War II.
Hartstone has done a lot of homework about 1940s Hollywood, the star system, the scandals, the tragedies, and the mores. She imagines experiences of the young Evie which would have been typical for myriad would-be actresses of the day. She hooks her tale onto the end of that of tragic failed actress Peg Entwistle who committed suicide by leaping from the top of the Hollywood sign’s letter “H”. She weaves around Evie the studio gossip of the day and tales of the stars. There is poor Jean Harlow who every Sunday had ammonia and chlorine bleach applied to her head to make her into Howard Hughes’s “platinum blonde”, and poor exploited Judy Garland on her studio diet of uppers and downers, with only chicken soup and coffee for sustenance.
Hartstone has her character teetering on the crossbar of the “H” as she tells her story of Hollywood disappointments, of never being noticed among the other aspiring actresses, of failing auditions because she is too fat, too thin, not pretty enough, or having too flat a profile. It was tough out there, especially for poor girls with no connections.
Hartstone looks wonderful as Evie with beautiful luscious blonde locks and a stunning black frock which Evie brags once belonged to Theda Bara. She adopts not only a good midwest accent as Evie, but throws in different American accents for other characters. And she sings, song after song, in a classic 1940s style evocative of Billie Holiday.
She creates another world in the little popup Fringe venue out there on the outskirts of the Botanic Gardens. It’s a remote and hard-to find venue which suffers for the Hackney Road upheavals, not to mention Womadelaide. But it is worth the effort to be magically transported into Hartstone's faraway world of Hollywood at its ruthless fairy-story height.
When: 11 to 19 Mar
Where: Noel Lothian Hall, Adelaide Botanic Garden