Women’s Project Theater
Julie Crosby and Lisa Fane, Directors
By Elfriede Jelinek
Translated by Gitta Honegger
Starring: Tina Benko
Directed by Tea Alagic
New York City Center Stage II
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Avenues
Scenic Design: Marsha Ginsberg
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Brian H. Scott
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Dramaturg: Megan E. Carter
Casting: Alaine Alldaffer, CSA
Wig Design: Tom Watson
Production Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Press Rep: The Bruce Cohen Group, Ltd.
Production Manager: Aduro Productions
Assoc. Producer: Aktina Stathaki
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 4, 2013
Elfriede Jelinek’s Jackie, about Mrs. Kennedy Onassis, our iconic and tragic First Lady, has been revived in advance of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination (November 22, 2013). Women’s Project Theater is presenting Tina Benko in a one-woman show, directed by Tea Alagic. Marsha Ginsberg’s set is a leaf-strewn empty cavern of a cement swimming pool, looking like fall, or looking like hell, maybe in November. Ms. Benko is Jackie Kennedy, whose attire, designed by Susan Hilferty, is a flesh-colored flared dress, with a bow-tie belt, beige pumps, pink patent purse, and a too-brown wig. Ms. Kennedy had dark hair and features, and Ms. Benko does not strive for her likeness. The swimming pool has a ladder to a ledge, where Jackie can push a button and get blond Barbie Dolls in pink dresses, by the bunch. Some fall to the leaves, and others are held and mauled by Jackie, as she personifies them as Marilyn Monroe, singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President”, with whiplash wit. Larger dolls are duct taped mummified figures, named Jack, Bobby, and Ari, for Jackie’s two deceased husbands and her one deceased brother-in-law, plus two tiny duct taped figures, representing Jackie’s two deceased premature and stillborn babies.
Ms. Benko seems to be in Jackie Kennedy’s late, cancer-stricken days, occasionally donning a long scarf on her head, mentally arranging the most memorable moments in her life, as if she might slip away without feeling them again. We hear sharp gunshots, thanks to Jane Shaw’s tightly timed sound design, and, intermittently, cool 60’s pop smoothies, danceable and mood-enhancing. In fact, the entire one-act play is filled with ironic twists and shifting temperaments. Ms. Benko keeps her monologue classy and other-worldly, even as she swallows little white speed enhancers. She talks about Jack’s wandering libido, blaming his transmitted bacteria for her dead babies. Then, in a swoop, more than twice or thrice, she focuses on the scene in Dallas, and what became of Jack, in gruesome detail, as if reciting a memory piece. Bobby and Aristotle are mentioned little, but their closeness to Mrs. Kennedy is renowned. And, it’s that level of transparent and public knowledge of Jackie’s most intimate experiences that drives Ms. Jelinek’s play. The playwright sees Jackie as a princess, Marilyn too, with the manufactured doll, iconic women who assumed royal levels of attention and fame.
This is not a Jackie look-alike play, most of which have been exploitive and crude, but, rather, an internal study of the mind-play of an infamous woman, who absorbed enormous grief and demonstrated courage out of loyalty to her public, much like Diana and the Queen. Ms. Benko has some vaudevillian moments, with witty remarks, timed for laughs, and her running up and down the iron ladder was a feat in itself. As she drags the duct taped mummified figures, embodying the weight of death, she wins pathos from the audience. Tea Alagic has directed to keep Ms. Benko compelling and interesting. I look forward to future presentations by Women’s Project Theater.
Tina Benko in Jackie
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg