“Why We Have A Body” opened a week ago at the famed Edgemar Theatre for the Performing Arts in Santa Monica. Tanna Frederick in her directorial debut, and surely not to be her last also stars in the play, that is engrossing, entertaining, comical, whimsical and makes you forget about the world for an hour. From the moment Frederick steps on stage, you are transported to a different world. One that has a crazed outlook, that only Tanna is able to carry to into, but once you are there, it’s like “Alice in Wonderland,” because you get to see so many other fascinating characters, all played to perfection by three gorgeous and talented leading ladies. In Frederick’s play, there are no supporting players, they each have their own place on stage, and Barbara Bain plays the only sensible character in the play, because fortunately for (Eleanor), she spends her entire time running away from two deliriously insane daughters (Mary and Lili), who are perfectly played by Frederick and co-star Alex Sedrowski! Then add phenomenal actress Cathy Arden (Renee), who is sexually involved with Lili, and you won’t stop laughing from the opening scene until the foursome run off stage in totally different directions.
The laughter is contagious when you attend this play. Everyone in the opening night’s audience seemed transfixed from the moment Tanna appeared on stage as Mary toting a gun and a grudge. Her monologue played precisely as the new budding director wanted it to be. Tanna is mesmerizing to watch, from the moment one sees her on stage or on screen, you know not to take your eyes off her, because for a split second, you can miss a truly magnificent nuance that you would never want to miss. Remember two words when you think of Ms. Frederick; Bette Davis!
Cathy Arden has a role that only she can play. Her every move is magnificently choreographed. She takes direction like a pro. Then again, she is! Cathy plays Renee the way many lesbians are awakened. She is uncertain about who she really is, what is right or wrong, but she is not uncertain about her love for Lili. The chemistry between Arden and Sedrowski is palpable. It crackles on stage, and whenever they are in a scene together, you feel like a nosy neighbor peering through the back patio of a Manhattan duplex. You know you should not be watching, but you can’t turn away. Turn away from Cathy Arden is like turning away from Ingrid Bergman; it’s just a ridiculous thought!
Alex Sedrowski was new to me. I’d never seen her work before. So with critical eyes, knowing she’s starring in a production opposite three of Hollywood’s current greatest leading ladies, I thought to myself; I hope she is adequate. I was astonished. Alex is not only adequate, but she is a perfect Lili. We all know someone like her, maybe even related to her. Neurotic but smart, brainy but gutsy. Alex Sedrowski is a dream to watch, and guess what? When she’s acting on stage, you feel as if she’s dreaming. Her character was perhaps the hardest to cast, and even harder to play. Because Lili has to be frustrated, but searching for her true-self. Frederick’s search for a perfect Lili culminated with Sedrowski, who will become a major player on the stage in L.A. and on Broadway if she so wishes. She has the spunk and style, with the awesome beauty of a young Audrey Hepburn, fresh off the sidewalk at Tiffanys, but on stage in Santa Monica. Doesn’t it all have a California feel to it? That’s the point!
Barbara Bain is a legend. Not just her acting credits, but known as well for her striking beauty, innate talent on screen and on stage, but also for being one of the most gracious leading ladies of the era when TV was classy, iconic and bold. Guess what? This lady hasn’t lost her edge in a decade or two. When you see this goddess on the stage at the legendary Edgemar Theatre, it’s as if you are transported for the moment to the time when Ethel Merman ruled the NYC Broadway stage, and Ms. Bain still has it! Beauty, talent, incredible timing, and the instinctual elegance and know-how that comes from not only being the best at what you do, but by pushing oneself to improve over the years. This lady belongs not just on stage, but on her own TV show.
In the story, Barbara Bain (Eleanor, the absent mother), Cathy Arden (Renee, Lili’s lover), Alexandra Sedrowski (Lili, the private investigator sister) and of course Tanna Frederick (Mary, the crazed sister) pull together a story that only Frederick as one of the most outstanding directors could manage to pull off. No easy feat for anyone else but Tanna, who was born to be a star, an acclaimed award winning actress, and soon to become an acclaimed award winning director. In this Rainbow Theatre production, a play by Claire Chafee, best known works which premiered in San Francisco in 1993 with a long run and was revived last year and ran off Broadway is tackled with someone (Tanna Frederick) helming it with big dreams and bigger talent.
As with any production, Tanna manages to take Chafee’s great work and make it her own, and offers a unique brand of humor that also manages to uplift, educate and build on. From the moment former Supermodel Janice Dickinson stepped on stage on Opening Night to introduce Tanna, Cathy, Alex and Ms. Bain, you knew that it would be an eclectic night of laughter and awe. Frederick and her team of thespians pulled it off, and have continued doing so in the plays’ second week in production.
Frederick and Arden pull off the one-line zingers with aplomb, while Sedrowski makes you wait a beat or two before she draws you in, with her incredible wit and her mesmerizing voice and actions. Then you prepare to meet the Queen of Comedy whenever Ms. Bain is brought out on stage to fill the scene with light, laughter and a bit of instruction, as only a trained thespian can pull off. Then again, that’s why Tanna Frederick, who is the most gifted and giving of superstar actresses today chose Ms. Bain to be in her amazing production.
The play is mysteriously enchanting, it have the most humorous lines, but dialog that is not just witty, but it brings your imagination to life. What else enchanted and ultimately entertained and instructed me was the five piece jazz band on stage added a nice touch, especially when the musicians interacted with the actors. The original score performed by Kyle O’ Donnell, David Abrams, Trevor Steer, Cooper Appelt, Robert Humphreys and never overpowered the actors and was alive with jazz, classical, blues and sound effects. Joel Daavid’s inventive, free form dreamlike set was both cave and womb like and created a feeling of whimsy and timelessness. The play came alive and gave an earthy but dreamlike vision with his lighting and was the perfect backdrop for the characters in every scene. Joel Daavid pulled it off again This is one person I want on my lighting whenever I do film, stage or TV. Joel Daavid, WOW!
Tanna Frederick however figured out that she was to make this play about four women dealing with love, complicated lives and multi-dimensional relationships. Mary can’t seem to keep her sticky fingers clean, and it is often wrapped around a pistol, Lili is far too young to be motherless, and what makes it harder, is that her mother is still alive, but living her dream; away from the dysfunctional daughters she gave birth to. But Daavid built a womb-like swing for Frederick’s Mary, who is constantly in one or another crazy hat and costume. This play started out about the conflicted love of lesbians and turned into a full-blown HIT!
When I am winding down watching this play, I find myself geared up again and again. Tanna’s got more energy whenever she’s on stage than an indoor kitty cat in heat with Tom Cats scratching through the screens trying to get to her. She’s a tease on stage, she catches your attention, darts away, goes away, brings another great star on the stage and just as you think you have it all figured out, out comes Ms. Frederick again a boundless bundle of the sexiest energy on screen since Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot!”
I wanted to arrest Mary by the end of the play, just to get her under my control. But what makes Tanna such an enigmatic and mysterious stage and screen star, is that whenever you think you have that energy bottled and recognized, it fizzles out of the bottle and excites you all over again! Watching Tanna, Alex, Cathy and Ms. Bain is like a Fourth of July barbeque after a good meal, and then the fireworks come out and you forget your own problems, the world around you, and the Edgemar turns into a universe of its own.
Barbara Bain is not only Mother Superior to her two needy girls; Mary and Lili. But Ms. Bain is superior in every way in this role. Cathy Arden; utter perfection, Alex Sedrowski is magic in a bottle, and Tanna Frederick is too BIG of a talent to place in a mold. She is what Bette Davis told me 30 years ago about Meryl Streep. “That bitch has what I have!” Well, Bette, if you had met Tanna Frederick, you would be in awe. This critic definitely was!
“Why We Have A Body” plays at the Edgemar Theatre Center at 2437 Main St. Santa Monica, 90405. The marvelous play runs through April 22, on Thursday evenings through Sunday. Tickets are $34.99 with a limited number of tickets at $25.00 (code BODY). Parking is available under the complex for $5.00. Call 310-392-7327 or on line www.edgemarcenter.org.
Tell Tanna Tommy and Highlight Hollywood sent you!
Photographs are Courtesy: Andrea Ross-Greene And George Keller
Follow us on Twitter @HighlightHwd or @LightfootinHwd