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Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

* Directed by George C. Wolfe * Constructed by John Lahr * Reconstructed and performed by Elaine Stritch * Neil Simon Theatre, New York City (through May 26)

Among the revelations in Elaine Stritch's highly entertaining sing-and-schmooze stage memoir, I'm not sure which is more shocking: that she was a virgin until she was 30 or that the whole time she was performing "Zip" in a revival of Pal Joey, she thought the line "I'm a het-erosex-ual" meant "I'm gay." She tells a story about turning down sex with Marlon Brando (granted, she was a young and devoutly Catholic actress fresh from Detroit and living in a convent on Manhattan's upper east side) and dropping Ben Gazzara at the height of his Italian hunkdom to date Rock Hudson. Is your lesbian detector going off yet? Stritch doesn't go there, but she does acknowledge her well-known status as lesbian fellow traveler by thanking her friend Liz Smith, the out showbiz columnist, for "making me seem more famous than I ever was."

Although she's made some movies (see Woody Allen's September), Stritch is most famous in the theater as a salty, one-of-a-kind comic personality who has always been a character actress, not a leading lady. She could steal a show with one number--the most legendary instance being her rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" in Stephen Sondheim's Company--and then leave before you'd gotten your fill of her. At last, Stritch fans get a full, satisfying meal in At Liberty.

She's also famous in the theater world for having been a rowdy drunk. A big part of this show consists of Stritch talking with humor and insight about the stage fright that fueled her drinking, though you can't help feeling she's minimized the bad behavior her alcoholism inspired. What elevates the show beyond a typical veteran performer's retrospective cabaret act is the excellent help she got from New Yorker theater critic John Lahr and director George C. Wolfe. They stitch songs and patter together so elegantly and ingeniously that by the end of the evening you've really absorbed a rich, full life.
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Author:Shewey, Don
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Apr 16, 2002
Words:345
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