Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

In the tradition of "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" comes "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me", directed by Chiemi Karasawa. Stritch, who is now 89, has had a history on Broadway for over forty years. She is quite a powder keg. She holds nothing back and that's why her  peers and audience respects her.

When Stritch walks about in New York she is nothing less than a creature, a bit of a foreman with a dash of Cruella de Vil, albeit a benevolent version. She wears a fur coat that looks fifty years old.

Stritch is a loose limbed celebrity. She is approachable and not afraid to meet fans, delighting in the tension of some repartee.

When an young admirer tells her that she has secured a part as a lesbian vampire. She is aghast. "Is that what entertainment has come to?" She asks, refusing to stitch her tongue. The more outrageous she is, the more people love her and rightly so.

Stritch has seen many eras. In the early days, she was onscreen with Rock Hudson, dated Kennedy, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show and starred in Woody Allen's "September". Ben Gazzara fell in love with the contrast in her: a seemingly sweet catholic girl who swears like a sailor and tells it like it is, not what you want to hear. But Stritch was not ready to settle down. The silhouette of the New York City skyline was traced upon her body and she was going places.

When she caught her breath, Stritch married actor John Bay, whose family owned the Bay English Muffin company. He stole her heart and to this day, Stritch treats a box of Bay English Muffins as if it were a case of  billets-doux by kissing the carton.

She achieved fame on Broadway with "Company" and later in a 1996 revival of Edward Albee's intense drama "A Delicate Balance".

Fame never changed her and now, in   this Millenial age, she is an unrepentant stork---silver, searing and transparently truthful, able to see.

Stritch is fond of the Carlyle Hotel. It is her roost. At the time of filming, she does several shows, a mix of songs and autobiography, come hell or high water. As long as she has a slug of Italian liqueur she'll do fine. But failing that, she'll joke and carry on with the audience loving her anyway.

She has the obstacle of some very sinister diabetes to combat and hold off. With every stay in the hospital---and there are a couple---Stritch is a prizefighter in the ring. Puffy, powerful and sarcastic.

She checks her glucose constantly like a two-toned jitterbug and just maybe she'll work it into an act.

She wobbles and spins and carries on.

Despite her tongue, an angel's arrow dipped in acid, the late James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame recalls fondly that she was the only actor that told him off, while Tina Fey sees her as an imposing whirl who can think on her feet. John Turturro has spasms of joy in her presence.

No matter where she goes, Stritch creates a tizzy or a tempest even when acting as an overbearing moll at an A.A. meeting.

While she laments the smartphone age as much as an invisible drink, Stritch is never sour, employing a kind of affectionate belligerence. Like a cabal of hens, friends hover about pecking and concerned, but Elaine marches forward. Her life energy is to entertain.

In her face there may well be the music of Tom Waits, containing the bittersweet be-bop of a Broadway in booze and oils as well as that of Stephen Sondheim and those  vampy long stroked  lines of a Hirschfeld drawing. We see it all in Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" and the actor is revealed as a die-hard battery of Broadway, as much a part of the city as the cement that makes Times Square.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

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