Actors’ Theatre’s latest offering, ‘The Property Known as Garland,’ cuts to the core of Judy Garland’s character
It takes one ambitious lady—not to mention, talented actor—to tackle the inner workings of a notorious character like Judy Garland. But local thespian Irene Tsouprake Teegardin was up to the task.
Garland, known to most as the wide-eyed Dorothy in Victor Fleming’s 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, lived a life filled with critically acclaimed performances in the film industry and record-breaking concert appearances. However, she also battled insecurities about her appearance—thanks in part to the executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)—financial woes, failed marriages, and alcohol and drug abuse. The latter of which, eventually led to her demise at age 47.
But, her legacy lives on, through her children—particularly Liza Minnelli—her onscreen catalogue, and this month, through “The Property Known as Garland.” The two-person play is the latest offering from Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre, known for producing the infamous Eight Tens @ Eight Festival.
Under the direction of Gerry Gerringer, the production is a fictional, behind-the-scenes look at Garland in her most vulnerable state: all alone in her dressing room with nothing but wine, cigarettes, pills, outlandish costumes, and, just maybe, the most terrifying thing of all, her own self-deprecating thoughts, to keep her company.
It is within that dressing room, where she sits in anticipation of her final concert appearance at the Falconre Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, that we find Garland stripped of the makeup and frills that characterized her time in the spotlight.
Garland’s larger-than-life personality remains steadfast, however, as she relaxes on a Chaise Lounge and bosses around a bumbling concert-hand, Ed (played by Nat Robinson)—whom she affectionately calls “pussycat”—who has been given the unfortunate task of waiting on the singer’s hand and foot.
Though her occasional interactions with Ed provide the audience with an opportunity to witness Garland’s social skills (or lack there of) and tremendous ego, each scene in which the two share the stage—obviously written by Billy Van Zandt with the intention of providing some comic relief—falls flat more often than not.
But perhaps, the reason the slapstick humor feels so forced and disjointed, is because the scenes in which Teegardin is alone on stage are incredibly moving and revealing of Garland’s true character. Each monologue offers more invaluable insight into the complex woman whom so few understood.
It is only after Ed leaves the starlet to herself that Garland shares intimate memories of being “sold like cattle” by MGM as a teenager, life under the thumb of her controlling mother, her adoration for her father and his tragic death, her many marriages, and the intense pressures of being (or living in the shadow of) Dorothy.
Alone on stage, she cries out desperately to the audience. “I don’t understand why they’re so fascinated by me!” “People have been trying to camouflage me all my life.” “If I got fat I couldn’t work.” “I’m not helpless like they think I am.”
And after hearing about how she only consumed chicken soup and water for 13 years to please film executives, it’s hard not to feel bad for the woman.
Sure, washing pills down with alcohol wasn’t the best decision, but it’s the lines between the lines—expertly nuanced by Teegardin—that say the most about Garland.
It is within Teegardin’s long, reflective pauses between monologues, and powerful gazes into the vanity mirror, that audience members can see beyond Garland’s tough exterior, and find a tortured soul who is just looking for something to believe in.
“I’m loved, and fuck anyone who says I’m not,” Garland shouts into the darkness, as if addressing everyone who ever called her a hunchback or said she was too fat. “How many deaths do I have to die for you people?”
Still, the tone of the play shifts towards the end. As Act II comes to a close, Garland—as if relieved by the conclusion of a long, winding therapy session—arrives at the somewhat satisfying conclusion that if given the opportunity, she would not change a thing about her often-turbulent life. And so, just as she is about to step out the door to perform for one last packed house, she leaves the audience with one final, poignant note: “They love me, and I love them.”
Photo: Davis Banta.
“The Property Known as Garland” runs Thursdays-Sundays, now through April 8, at Center Stage, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. For tickets and information, visit brownpapertickets.com.