Annette Bening Brings Ruth Draper to Life
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
Combine the extraordinary talents of renowned writer and monologist, Ruth Draper with those of actress, Annette Bening, and you have a stimulating and exciting evening of theatre at its finest. Ruth Draper wrote and performed her monologues from the 1920s through 1956 when she died in her sleep after a performance. She was born into an upper crust society and that very society became fodder for her work. She immersed herself into her characters and became them. Bening was introduced to Ruth Draper’s monologues at ACT and they became her obsession and passion. Bening brought that passion to the Geffen Playhouse to share and give us an entertaining and witty glimpse of a time gone by.
Even though the Draper monologues Annette Bening performed were of another time, another era and strata of society, they relate and have meaning today. Yes, the times have changed, styles and fashions have changed, but the heart of the matter has not. Vacuous people, who are caught up in themselves and in making a fashion statement still exist as do college age girls who, at the brink of change do not know who they are. Women still are into improving their attitude and into all sorts of fad diets.
In “A Class in Greek Poise” which Bening opened with, we see women, much as their contemporary counterparts, seeking to reshape their image, gain confidence and lose weight. Bening, as the group leader, resplendent in a white satin toga created each woman in the group. We were able to visualize them in their outfits and bloomers. This monologue poked fun at what we would now refer to as our fitness gurus and yoga teachers. Draper dealt with our attitudes towards our bodies in a fun way.
The simple set changes with a plush oversize chair, a spare table and chairs, a plush settee, and background curtain and different chandeliers by set designer Takeshi Kata worked perfectly to create the period. Catherine Zuber’s period costumes were stunning and so perfect in capturing the flavor of each character.
In an about switch, in “A Debutante at A Dance”, Bening changed her outfit, modulated her voice and became the girlish debutante at a dance, whose goal is to have fun, while pondering the meaning of life. We saw years drop off Bening as her character caught her breath in between dances and chatted with her gentleman friend. Girls today go through similar qualms. This girl did not know if she had character. To her, you only gain character when you meet a goal. “If you succeed, you have character.”
In “Doctors and Diets” which was my favorite, we meet Mrs. Grimmer in her fabulous hat with a stand up feather. Apparently, her reservation was misplaced. Of course they didn't recognize her in a different colored hat. She had worn a red hat the other day. As Mrs. Grimmer adroitly minces through the tight space of tables, I saw the tables even though there was only the one table on stage. Marvelous space work! This monologue so related to the diet panacea of today with protein diets, carb diets, vegan diets, raw foods, juice fasts, and all the weight loss fads. I was in stitches as these four women go to the toniest, expensive restaurant and are on such strange diets. Mrs. La Prune can only have the juice of eleven lemons, Clara eats a bunch of whole carrots with the green tops on, the third wants a cold, boiled turnip and Mrs. Grimmer trumps them all with her choice. I am not going to tell you what she ate. She then tells us of her friend, Flora Ijit, who turned green. She went to a color analyst, who treated her with purple. I went to have my colors analyzed. So, how far fetched was this monologue? The idea that a doctor would stop seeing individual patients and treat the public en masse is not so bizarre. Mind you, this was before Medicare dictated to doctors how many patients they had to see and how little time they could spend. Ruth Draper was ahead of her time.
Bening slipped out of her wonderful hat, that hat had so much character, and into a flesh colored silk dressing gown with marabou feathers in “The Italian Lesson.” She ensconced herself in a flesh colored round womb like settee and held court as the pampered dame who is getting her Italian lesson by reading Dante’s “Inferno”. She was interrupted by her children, her maid, her secretary, her manicurist, and phone calls from god knows who. I even saw the puppy as she fussed with him. This seemed to be the longest monologue and though we never heard from the Signora, I caught the tedium and frustration the Signora must have felt. This lady was juggling 4 children, their play dates, her husband’s golf clubs, the cook, Jane, the maid, and her secretary. It was a slice of the busy life of the rich and famous. Bening caught the vanity, the self-centeredness of this character. The pacing was spot on.
How Bening learned all those lines and was able to master the huge amount of dialogue is a testament to her incredible acting prowess. She brought the characters to life so meticulously and beautifully. It also is a testament to her directing ability. She certainly brought her dream to perform Ruth Draper’s monologues to life.
“Ruth Draper’s Monologues” runs at the Geffen Playhouse through May 18th at 10886 Le Conte in Westwood. For tickets and show times, call 310-208-5454 or go on line to geffenplayhouse.com
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her classes are on-going in April through May. For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com