Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Colette Uncensored"

Colette Uncensored
Zack Rogow and Lorri Holt

Lorri Holt as Colette
The pupils dance in excitement across the surface of her eyes.  Her hands clasp in tiny balls, grasp at unseen objects, and then fly in five directions at once.  Lips move with well-formed purpose with a slight quiver on the right side as her life story unfolds, and then they suddenly freeze in pursed position as some memory passes silently deep inside her.  As the famed French writer simply known worldwide as Colette (Sidione-Gabrielle Colette), Lorri Holt clearly is having the time of her life reenacting a 1945 lecture in post-war Paris as she talks about Colette’s life and the books that later spawned the beloved movies Cheri and Gigi.  Based on recently discovered writings of this prolific writer (author of over eighty works of fiction, memoirs, plays, and articles), Colette Uncensored (co-written by the performer and Zack Rogow) lays out in delicious details for the Marsh audience the scandalous, liberating, and ground-breaking adventures of this woman who left her mark for generations to come during her 1873-1954 lifetime. 

Three husbands, several women lovers, and a several-year sexual romp with a stepson that began when he was sixteen are just some of the exploits Colette outlines in her chatty, tell-all presentation.  Giving us winks, looks of knowing, and flips of her curled, red hair, we as audience are treated as her new best friends and confidants.  Proudly she tells us, “My generation dedicated ourselves to freedom and relationships,” and then she backs that claim with story after story of just how freely she lived in those associations and alliances.  “I became a woman, a hungry beast ... wondering if pleasure is the same as happiness,” she leans in to tell us.  The soon-to-be-famed character Claudine she put on paper, “I created my girl as a goddess in my own image;” and as she describes herself, there is an palatable sense of self-admiration and adoration but not of overbearing ego and self-import.

The joy of the telling comes not only in getting to know this very French woman in her white-dotted, blue satin blouse and red-accented scarf tied around her neck with a Parisian flair.  It comes also from her giving voice and stance to the people populating her verbal memoir – husbands, lovers, a revered mother, and abandoned daughter.  Often, our Colette walks over to an unsuspecting audience member, transforms by implication that person into herself, and then bathes with compliments or berates with anger that Colette in the voice of one of her life’s actors. 

A particularly numbing interchange occurs at one point between a mid-aged Colette and her now-grown daughter, someone Colette has evidently not seen in years after the daughter was sent off to boarding school to be out of the way while her mother cavorted about the world of scandals and society.  As the daughter confronts her “mother who couldn’t love,” we get to hear the hurt, loss, and cost on both sides of what it took to be a liberated woman of the early twentieth century.  Over and again and especially at that moment, earlier words of Colette come to bear: “The one who gives advice is the one who needs it most.”

Lorri Holt is nothing short of spectacular in this production directed with flair and feeling by David Ford.  The insight and energy given to these excerpts of Colette’s writings brings us as close as we could ever imagine being to a woman who was honored in her lifetime with awards rarely given to anyone her sex (e.g., a member of the Belgian Royal Academy and a grand officer in the French Legion of Honour).  Her tour de force at The Marsh is one not to be missed for anyone who has ever cuddled up to read one of the “Claudine” novels, watched yet again Gigi on late-night TV, or strolled the streets of Paris wondering about those who preceded them down those cobblestones in years long past.

Rating: 5 E

Colette Uncensored continues through May 14, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 -p.m. and Saturdays at 5 The Marsh, San Francisco, main stage, 1062 Valencia Street.  Tickets are available at or by calling 415-282-3055 Monday – Friday, 1 – 4 p.m.

Photo Credit: David Allen

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