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St. Luke’s Theater, New York
An unusually prominent cast stars in this off-Broadway production of an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying new play.
The debut playwriting effort of art dealer/curator Myra Bairstow, “The Rise of Dorothy Hale” well reflects its author’s knowledge of her subject while also revealing her inexperience as a dramatist.
The subject matter of the play is the 1938 death of 33-year-old socialite Dorothy Hale (Laura Koffman), who either jumped or was pushed from her 16th-story window in New York’s Hampshire House on Central Park South. Clare Booth Luce (Sarah Wynter) later commissioned Frida Kahlo (Sarita Choudhury) to make a portrait in honor of her friend, but the famed Mexican artist’s disturbing visual treatment of the subject, titled “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” (a reproduction of which is exhibited in the theater’s foyer), wasn’t what she had in mind.
The play examines the historical situation from various angles. Part murder mystery — it posits the theory that Hale’s death was connected with her secret romantic relationship with Harry Hopkins (Mark La Mura), FDR’s closest adviser — and part rumination on the interpretive nature of art, it doesn’t fully succeed on either level.
Not helping matters are the confusing shifts back and forth in time, nor the employment of stock characters like a doorman (Michael Badalucco) who is naturally aware of all of the secrets of his building’s residents.
While the sheer fascination of the subject matter gives the play some interest, director Pamela Hall’s (a last-minute replacement) awkward staging doesn’t manage to compensate for its structural and narrative deficiencies.
The performers for the most part fail to provide much depth to their characterizations, with the exception of Choudhury, who conveys Kahlo’s tortured aspects in a hauntingly subtle, enigmatic fashion.
THE RISE OF DORORTHY HALE
Presented by Judson Moore, Paolo Montalban, Asset Management Partners, Edmund Gaynes and Aridyne Prods.
Playwright: Myra Bairstow
Director: Pamela Hall
Set designer: Josh Iacovelli
Lighting designer: Graham Kindred
Costume designer: Rebecca Bernstein
Frank DeLuca: Michael Badalucco
Mitch Davenport: Patrick Boll
Frida Kahlo: Sarita Choudhury
Dorothy Hale: Laura Koffman
Harry Hopkings: Mark La Mura
Clare Booth Luce: Sarah Wynter
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