Over twenty years ago, one of Sonoma County’s best actresses, Mollie Boice, set the bar for one woman shows with her haunting portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife in “Zelda.” The theme of strong women being overshadowed by weak men emerged in this play. Two productions that opened on December 14th not only employed actresses who may have matched Boice’s performance but also helped develop the strong women/weak men theme as well.
“Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter” opened at the Cinnabar Theater on December 14 and will run through January13th (cinnabartheater.org; 707-763-8920) starring Maureen McVerry as Linda Lee Porter. In her Paris apartment, Linda recalls her life and love with Cole Porter. Her scintillating storytelling intersperses with her soft but clear and melodic singing of many Porter hits.
The song lyrics underscore the diverse vignettes. When she sings “So in Love,” she captures those first love moments that can only be remembered but never be repeated. Place, always part of story, is never more resonantly heard than in the musical number, “I Love Paris.” And Linda’s ability to love Porter even after experiencing unique and unspoken difficulties rises with her voice in her rendition of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” McVerry’s singing softly matches her subtle acting.
Low key, the operative word, describes both the acting and the music. McVerry tells her stories and sings her songs downplaying drama while lifting out an unusual story about the Porter relationship. Believable, credible, enjoyable acting and singing lifts the curtain of a shadowed life of the twentieth century that could only be revealed in our time. Linda showed strength and love; Maureen McVerry captured this in her portrayal of Cole Porter’s wife.
“The 12 Dates of Christmas” also opened at 6th Street Playhouse on December 14th and will run through January 6th (6thstreetplayhouse.com; 707-523-4185) starring Jess Headington as Mary, a single lady in search of Mr. Right. In her New York apartment or in coffee shops, Mary, through her storytelling, shares problems with modern dating which may exceed Hercules’ twelve tasks in difficulty and be more laden with peril than all of Odysseus’ ten year’s journey as she attempts to recover from a romantic let down.
Headington, through Mary, creates many humorous other characters. As she tells the stories of her twelve dates, she becomes those characters in voice, gesture, and attitude. Comedy rises out of the various situations but is really capped by Headington’s ability to project these personalities whether it is an Amazon dimensioned female doctor or a five year old lad who is playing Tiny Tim in a production of “The Christmas Carol.” At the curtain call, the audience is looking at one actress but seeing a dozen unforgettable characters.
Like Linda and Zelda, Mary, a strong and independent woman, deals with weak and needy men. One by one, as these men pass through her life, Linda hangs ornaments on a Christmas tree that symbolize something about each date such as binoculars for a stocker and handcuffs for a convict. Mary, always strong and ever optimistic, follows positive advice: “Whenever one thing dies, another thing will come.” Perhaps, the last object that she placed on the tree gives a clue about the success of her journey.
What lesson can be drawn from “The 12 Dates of Christmas” and “Love, Linda” and even from “Zelda”? Maybe only a woman has the strength to present a solid one-person show. Certainly, Maureen McVerry and Jess Headington proved this in their respective shows.