“You leave the theatre feeling like you just spent the evening with Bette Davis!” exclaimed audience member Adrienne Pellegrino on opening night of playwright Elizabeth Fuller’s Me and Jezebel, a delightful treat being served up at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson through February 6.
Bette Davis had a reputation for being acerbic, determined and aggressive, all personal qualities magnified in her performances. In 1938, Davis won her second Academy Award for the role of headstrong Julie Marsden in William Wyler’s Jezebel. Fuller uses that name in the title of Me and Jezebel—initially a memoir adapted into this play—to reference Davis, the explosive character who imposed upon her family.
This legendary personality turned the lives of her tranquil Westport, Connecticut hosts upside down.
In 1985, 77-year-old Davis accompanied a mutual friend to the Fuller house one evening for dinner. The next day Davis called and asked to stay with the couple a night or two due to the New York hotel strike and the need for a quiet place to work on her biography. The star-struck Liz [Fuller] readily agreed—much to the dismay of her author husband, John Fuller.
This overnight stretched into a month-long invasion in which Davis dictated grocery lists without offering to pay, required a firm mattress and made numerous phone calls to Hollywood, Paris and Rome in a time when long distance calls were anything but free. Adding fuel to Davis’ already enflamed temper was her daughter’s tell-all book, My Mother’s Keeper, which was published that same month. Davis was seeking sanctuary from reporters, and what better place than this bucolic locale.
Directed by Theatre Three veteran Bradlee E. Bing, Me and Jezebel is a two-character comedy featuring Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing as Bette Davis. Both actresses deliver tour de force performances in their equally challenging roles.
Castrogiovanni’s Liz serves as narrator with the additional task of magically morphing at times into the 4-year-old playwright’s son, Christopher, at other times into husband John, holy roller Grace, and even a restaurant waiter.
Marci Bing as Bette Davis and Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Liz Fuller, Photo: Courtesy Theatre Three
Among the standout moments, is an argument between Liz and John, who is fed up with Davis’ extended stay. Both characters come to life simultaneously in Castrogiovanni’s versatile hands. Liz’s devotion is deep, initiated when as a child her O’l Ma granny introduced her to Davis’ films, and by Act II, she has adopted Davis’ mannerisms and fashion, which makes for an amusing vision—like an extra in All About Eve.
The task of recreating the legendary Bette Davis is not an easy one, yet an audible gasp is heard from the audience upon Bing’s first entrance as she resurrects Davis for the stage. Bing captures every nuance of Davis, from her staccato gait to her throaty tone and grandiose gestures punctuated with swirling cigarette smoke. She is a whirlwind crashing the serene Fuller household and spouting Bette-isms, such as “When they stop wanting your autograph, you’re finished,” or “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Additionally, she spits out condemnations, revealing her jealousy and hatred for Joan Crawford.
There is a glimpse of a warm, caring side when interacting with Liz’s 4-year-old son during a visit to McDonald’s. Christopher flies into a tantrum when his happy meal doesn’t contain the airplane he wanted. Davis explains you don’t always get what you want and offers her disappointment at not being cast as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind as an example. But the following year she was offered Julie in Jezebel, and the rest is history. Chris hangs on her every word and the tantrum subsides. Bradlee Bing and his wife Marci have been connected with Theatre Three since the early days of the playhouse. He formerly served as artistic director and is presently on Theatre Three’s Board of Directors. With this production, Marci gains yet another acting credit to her already impressive body of work.
Randall Parsons' set, complete with receding forest green columns framing the detailed Fuller living room, is as attractive as it is serviceable for the actors. The lighting by Robert W. Henderson, Jr. emphasizes the living space while allowing the columns to function as a backdrop for the stage.
As director of Me and Jezebel, Bing has created a free-spirited, impeccably timed romp. This is a fun-filled evening of theater with just a touch of sentimentality.
Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com for more info, including tickets and show times.
PORT JEFFERSON Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, left, is Elizabeth Fuller and Marci Bing is Bette Davis in “Me and Jezebel,” Ms. Fuller’s play about her encounter with the actress, through Feb. 6 at Theater Three, 412 Main Street. Tickets are $15 to $30. For information: 631-928-9100; theaterthree.com. CreditPeter Lanscombe
L-R Marci Bing And Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. Photo courtesy of the production.
Me and Jezebel is a play based upon the book Me and Jezebel written by Elizabeth Fuller in 1992. This is the story of Elizabeth Fuller (“me”) and Bette Davis (“Jezebel,” from her role in the film by that name). In 1985, Ms. Fuller had the opportunity, through a mutual friend, to entertain Bette Davis at her home for dinner. Ms. Fuller was a life-long fan, having shared a love of Ms. Davis with her grandmother. When Ms. Davis called to thank her, she asked if she could spend a night or two because of a hotel strike. Ms. Fuller was thrilled to have her idol stay in her home. To her husband’s distress, the stay extended to thirty-two days.
Ms. Fuller is an author of eight published nonfiction books. During Ms. Davis’ stay, she kept a journal. She started sharing her story, which over the years turned into a one-woman show, and finally, as it is today, a two-woman show.
. . . Ms. Bing’s interpretation of Bette Davis is impressive . . .
Marci Bing does a first-rate job portraying Bette Davis. Her attitude, tone of voice, expressions, mannerisms and the non-stop smoking made a very realistic rendition. (Herbal cigarettes are used.) Her dry wit came through loud and clear. Believably vacillating between shocking and offensive behavior, kindness with Fuller’s four year old son, and being sadly injured by her own daughter’s tell-all book, Ms. Bing’s interpretation of Bette Davis is impressive.
Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni played Ms. Fuller with enthusiasm. She not only portrays Ms. Fuller, but also her four year old son, her husband and a woman who stops by. Continuously on stage as she tells the story to the audience, she seamlessly slips from narration to acting in the scene she was describing while changing her voice for the different characters. The audience responded as she alternated between frustration with Ms. Davis’ outrageous behavior and her vulnerable desire to have a relationship with her favorite actor.
Me and Jezebel is an engaging play, full of humor and emotion. Unfortunately, being true to Ms. Davis’ character, it is also full of profanity and irreverence.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Me and Jezebel is running at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, NY until February 6, 2016. The theatre is located at 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson. For tickets, call the box office at (631) 928-9100 or click here.
January 13, 2016 5:01 PM
By Steve Parks firstname.lastname@example.org
Marci Bing, left, as Bette Davis, and Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as the author in "Me and Jezebel" at Theatre Three, Port Jefferson. Photo Credit: Theatre Three Productions
“Bette Davis Eyes,” the 1981 Kim Carnes hit, was the perfect accompaniment to the bows and applause after Theatre Three’s opening-night performance of “Me and Jezebel.”
Marci Bing, as the two-time Oscar-winning actress, brings those daunting eyes back to life, peering out from behind picture-window spectacles as she alternately rebukes and rewards — keeping us wondering whether Davis is being genuine or just using her famous acting chops to get her way.
The 1992 play is based on the true story of a Hollywood legend invited for dinner who takes up residence for 32 days. Davis’ extended stay gave the author, Elizabeth Fuller, plenty of material. Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni as Fuller also voices the men in the playwright’s life, her husband and 4-year-old son — most endearingly young Christopher, through whom she delivers a line so disarming we’d like to believe it was really spoken by the child and not written by his mother.
In 1985, Davis was hiding in Westport, Connecticut, during a New York City hotel strike that coincided with the release of her daughter’s book, “My Mother’s Keeper,” depicting her as a lighter version of rival Joan (“Mommie Dearest”) Crawford. Each day is enumerated — especially by Liz’s impatient husband. But Liz can’t bring herself to evict her guest. Instead, she finds things to do together — such as taking Christopher to McDonald’s. When he throws a tantrum over a kids-meal prize, Bette draws from movie history to show why disappointment can be a gift. When Vivien Leigh beat her out for the Scarlett O’Hara part in “Gone With the Wind,” Davis got the title role in “Jezebel” as consolation. That was her second Oscar.
Bing’s Davis seems most vulnerable when passers-by don’t recognize her or think she had died. (She was 77 and died four years later.)
To my knowledge, this is the first Long Island “Jezebel” played by a woman. Impersonating Bette Davis can be effective in drag. But director Bradlee Bing, Theatre Three co-founder and Marci’s husband, finds greater authenticity with an actress experienced in playing legends. (Bing played Maria Callas in “Master Class” in 2014.)
Meanwhile, a language warning: Davis never censors herself. Also, she smokes constantly (herbal cigarettes).
Ronald Green III dresses Bing in diva-appropriate leisurewear, while set designer Randall Parsons’ centered bookcase anchors the guest abode Davis describes as “a dump.”
She’s kidding. We think.
Few Hollywood personalities have lured more female impersonators to characterize them than has the late, great Bette Davis. Accordingly, the starring role of ‘Me and Jezebel,’ which originally opened in New York at Broadway’s Snapple Theater in July, 2013, has frequently been played in drag. With Davis’s acerbic wit and whiskey-cigarette voice, the irreverent icon was (and is) a natural subject for the type of parody we’ve all seen both in the legitimate theater and on late night television shows.
But the Bette Davis of ‘Me and Jezebel’ as currently being portrayed at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, has been given the most irrepressible interpretation we’re ever likely to see in the person of Long Island’s leading lady of the stage, Marci Bing.
Those of us who had the pleasure of watching Ms. Bing play Maria Callas so magnificently in the Theatre Three production of ‘Master Class’ will not be surprised that she has turned in still another unforgettable virtuoso performance, playing Davis … who, in this show, is invited by author and doting fan Elizabeth Fuller (superbly played by Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni) briefly to weather a New York hotel strike at Fuller’s suburban Connecticut home … only to find that the incorrigible screen idol is bordering on becoming a near-permanent fixture!
Whoever was first struck with the notion that Bing should take on this choice role obviously knew her range and depth of insight, because masterful Marci has her character down absolutely cold!
And what a character Davis was! Consider: when an actress becomes recognized by an entire generation of moviegoers based on three spoken words … “Peter, Peter, Peter.” (pronounced ‘Pet-ah’ of course) you know there’s something there that’s probably going to be imitated for time immemorial. We see the same phenomenon with Cary Grant’s “Judy, Judy, Judy.” As the lead character in this delightful spoof points out, Grant never said it, in fact, and Davis never actually offered her triplet either … but that’s not the point. The attribution is there regardless.
Stars like Marci Bing and the delightfully supportive Castrogiovanni (who, in fact must be considered an equal partner in the billing of this show) create the impression that directors, in this case Theatre Three veteran Bradlee E Bing, had nothing much to do … so capable are his free-and-easy charges. That impression in itself, however, is a tribute to his extraordinary skills.
‘Me and Jezebel’ is a truly rewarding post-holiday treat that is not to be missed! You’ll find yourself laughing out loud one minute … and moved almost to tears the next … as this superb acting duet, separated by more than a couple of decades, tickles then woos you with their incredible versatility.
The play opened on January 9th and runs thru February 6th at Port Jefferson’s comfortable, affordable, venerable old theater at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson.
Local residents who find themselves trapped in a “Man Who Came to Dinner” type dilemma as holiday hosts … might be well-advised to bring that lingering lodger to see the great (if sometimes deliciously profane) Marci Bing and Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. First of all, let it be said that everyone will enjoy themselves immensely … and maybe, just maybe, that tenacious house guest will take the hint in the bargain.
The number is (631) 928 9100.
Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of eleven novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s website is www.JebsBooks.com