Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” sets the mood for Elizabeth Iannaci’s one-woman show “O Beautiful Doll,” at Harman Alley Theatre in Hollywood, and later she even sings her own clever lyrics to that classical bit of musical elan. Joy is not her message--clear-eyed honesty is.
Honesty ties together the portraits in Iannaci’s gallery of women who haven’t totally broken down the ramparts of liberation, whether social or personal. Each one is a reminder that liberation is a unique battle in every case.
The most together of Iannaci’s characters is single mother Maddy, warm, intelligent and in control. Her several appearances are brief hints of sanity in a less-than-sane world--until she finds herself on the witness stand, that is, stunned by the demeaning questions put to her by a rapist’s female attorney.
Maddy’s solidity weaves in and out of other likenesses: Cherry, a self-constructed bimbo whose mother helped in the construction, auditioning as a performing telegram; Roxy, a tough showbiz type who describes nights scoping a band her boss wants to sign, and whose sexy dress causes this career girl too many problems; and Layla, a nice person who after a bad experience in a girlie bar, trades it for a worse one as a nude “figure model.” They’re touching and sad, these women who didn’t notice liberation passing them by.
Less successful as a portrait is Nora, a Southern type, marinating her nails at a beauty parlor. She blandly describes her failed attempt at murder, and later plays with the bullet holes in the kitchen wall remembering how easy it was. Nora would be more effective without the accent and the Southern address. Least worthy is Iannaci’s couple of minutes with Marilyn Monroe.
Iannaci’s writing benefits from Peter Flood’s intelligent direction. As an actress, she also benefits from a tendency toward intriguing understatement. What keeps her from being as powerful as she could be is a lack of energy onstage, energy that film could provide through close-ups and quick cuts, but which the actress herself must provide live.
“O Beautiful Doll,” Harman Alley Theatre, 522 N. La Brea, Hollywood; Thursday and Jan. 10, 8 p.m. $12.50; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 50 minutes.