The Goddess at the Artistic Home: Theater review
The Artistic Home adapts Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay for the stage, with mixed results.
Wed Oct 16 2013
Photograph: Tim Knight
A small-town girl dreams of success as a performer and learns to be careful what she wishes for when she finds fame and fortune. It’s one of the most common stories, both fictional and nonfictional, of the entertainment industry, but it was still a relatively fresh plot when Paddy Chayefsky’s The Goddess hit theaters in 1958. The Academy Award winner’s screenplay depicts the rise and fall of Rita Shawn (Lee Stark), née Emily Ann Faulkner, a Marilyn Monroe–like starlet who sacrifices her personal relationships and sense of self-worth to make it big in Hollywood. The Artistic Home’s adaptation, the very first stage adaptation of one of Chayefsky’s screenplays, emphasizes the artifice of Shawn’s lifestyle, but the script’s flaws become increasingly evident when it’s pulled off the screen.
Artistic Home first started using the Goddess screenplay for scene study in its acting classes, which works because the script is essentially a collection of standalone moments lacking connective tissue. Covering an expansive period from Emily Ann’s childhood to Rita's later years, Chayefsky rushes through significant life events to cover the full breadth of the narrative, resulting in two marriages that aren’t fully formed. When Emily Ann leaves her first husband (Daniel McEvilly) for Hollywood, the action immediately shifts to the West Coast years later, where she has a new name, a new fiancée, and a handful of small roles on her resume. That second marriage gets more attention than the first, but it still feels empty despite strong character work from Lee Stark and Josh Odor, as Rita’s former boxing-champ husband, Dutch Seymour.
Mossman goes for a Brechtian approach to make the piece feel like a play rather than a movie, utilizing relatively spare set dressing, actors playing multiple characters, and onstage costume changes. With the daunting task of costuming a cast of 17, designer Lynn Sandberg does remarkable work establishing the shifts in time through clothing. There are some modern changes to the script (the ending to a casting couch scene would have mortified ’50s audiences), but Mossman stays true to the style of classic cinema, particularly in the performances, which have the slightly exaggerated quality found in old movies.
While the script needs work to make the audience fully invest in Rita’s journey, Lee Stark does a remarkable job showing the character’s deterioration over time. An incredibly passionate performer whose presence fills the intimate space, Stark creates a portrait of a woman always desperate to escape. Initially that desire takes the form of a Hollywood dream for a promiscuous young girl constantly seeking attention. Once she gets the attention, she wants to escape again, this time searching not for excitement but numbness, through drugs and alcohol. Odor’s quiet but confident sex appeal balances nicely with Stark’s intensity, creating the kind of spark the rest of the production needs.