By Michael Tessler
Bette Davis epitomized glamour, style, and sexiness for decades. And then, she didn’t. Consumed by controversy, she fell, like most stars do, only to land in a most unexpected place.
Written by Elizabeth Fuller and directed by Bradlee Bing, Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three brings Bette Davis back to life for a roaring good time in their production of “Me and Jezebel,” a true story that shows a side of the Hollywood legend that very few have seen before.
Marci Bing is Bette Davis. Each of her steps is made with such dramatic purpose, each line delivered with diction so precise you could slice bread. You’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who hadn’t convinced themselves they were actually watching “The Fifth Warner Brother” herself.
Bing, a longtime actress at Theatre Three, takes a lifetime of experience to the stage to deliver an unforgettable performance. She captures not the starlit diva of yesteryear, but rather the aged, raspy, resentful, yet regal nonetheless, 77-year-old Bette Davis.
This dynamic character would prove a serious challenge for even the most veteran performers, yet Bing delivers on all levels, leaving you desperately surfing through Turner Classic Movies afterwards to catch Bette Davis classics like “Of Human Bondage” and “Jezebel.” Her perfectly-paced performance will make you love her, hate her, then love her all over again.
On her opposite, is the relatable, and significantly tamer, Mrs. Fuller, the real-life writer who unexpectedly became hostess to one of Hollywood’s greatest and most controversial stars. Played by the extremely talented Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, another Theatre Three veteran, this young mother finds herself face-to-face with her childhood hero. This true encounter is recreated perfectly on-stage, using a storytelling style slightly different from your usual stage production.
Castrogiovanni shines as she plays not just Mrs. Fuller, but also her stern husband, rambunctious son, and a southern evangelist determined to convert the often unholy Bette Davis. Her impressive balancing of these secondary characters will make you laugh, sneer, and sniffle. Each character takes on a life of its own and interacts flawlessly with Davis.
Perhaps my favorite part of Castrogiovanni’s performance was the reverence not just for Davis, but for her real life counterpart, Marci Bing. These two form a chemistry that brings the whole show together and brings the whole house down. Her tension, starstruck mannerisms, and admiration feel so authentic that it’s hard not to believe what you’re watching isn’t actually happening for the first time. Castrogiovanni could revisit the show in a few years and easily pick up the role of Bette Davis.
Much of the show’s success can be attributed to Mr. Bradlee Bing. His expert direction helped create an atmosphere perfect for shaping these characters. The simple set and subtle lighting helped bring the Fuller’s New England cottage to life. This provided excellent embellishments to an already marvelous performance.
If you know Bette Davis, you’ll love the show. If you’ve never heard of her, you’ll fall in love with her the night you see it.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Me & Jezebel” through Feb. 6. Contains adult themes and language. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.