Karen Finley as Jacqueline Kennedy in The Jackie Look.
BOTTOM LINE: I didn't love it, and it doesn't really work in this venue. It's serious, it's emotional, and it's a two-drink minimum. I also wanted so much more from Karen Finley's performance then what the one-note script allowed her.
Walking down the stairs of West Bank Café into the Laurie Beechman Theatre for The Jackie Look, I had high hopes. The food smells great, and someone takes your food and drink order right when you walk in. The place is cramped, but the atmosphere feels intimate and slightly upscale, making me feel like I was rubbing elbows with the "cool" New Yorkers, the ones who know what's fun and fresh. Dorky, but true; this space provides many great artists with an intimate no-frills setting, while providing the audience great (but pricey) meals and drinks. I was also excited to see Miss Finely perform; she's famous for racy, in-your-face, borderline obscene performances that favor strong messages of women empowerment.
I didn't get what I wanted. I was checking my watch forty-five minutes in. It's not that Finley's performance wasn't strong or well acted. She's a very strong actress with a demanding presence, but the script doesn't really go anywhere; and I felt the story never evolved.
The evening starts out with Finley (as Jackie Kennedy, the "Jackie" in question) watching and interacting with a slide-show of herself, her children, her life in the White House, and then JFK's assassination. Though a little conceptual for the space, this was powerful and moving, and Finely does a great job transitioning into something more comfortable with her use of detachment and dry humor. She takes the audience on a tour of the Dallas Memorial Website, and critiques the color of fonts, the layout of the pictures used on the assassination postcard, and other tactless items. Her take on it's kind of absurd, and I liked it. She even sounds a little drunk, and I like that too, cause so am I after a two drink minimum.
After that, it was downhill for me. For the next hour the script focuses on how Jackie was the public figure of grief of her time. All the photos taken of her (at the time she was the world's most photographed woman), didn't allow her to forget or move on from her husband's assassination. Her entire image was a walking monument to tragedy. I understand that this is a strong message, and that is what the First Lady undoubtedly dealt with, but it didn't need an hour. I wanted so much more. It could have been so much more poignant with comparisons to other young women in the media facing similar attention and scrutiny. I wanted to hear of her husband's mistresses, or about marrying again, or how she felt about the rest of the Kennedys' political careers. I wanted more comparisons to Princess Diana or Mrs. Obama. I wanted to know how she felt about her husband dying for her country, how her children did without a father. I wanted a commentary on how other young women are subjected to the media's scrutiny and what it drives them to do.
There were a few relevant and poignant comments on the current political atmosphere, but all shrouded by Jackie's inability to let go of that painful day, caused by the media's frenzy. It left a bad taste in my mouth, like Finley herself was unable to share anything else with the audience other then her pain. For an hour. Maybe it would have worked better in a different venue, but at a dinner theater? Wrong venue. In the end I felt like Finley's performance was a dulled down, selfish and slow script– It's theater, not therapy, and I got the point after 15 minutes.
(The Jackie Look is playing at the Laurie Beechman Theater at the West Bank Café at 407 West 42nd Street at 9th Avenue through April 24th. Performances are every Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets are 20 dollars, and there's a 15 dollar food and drink minimum. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatermania.com )