Kayla Boye created “Call Me Elizabeth,” in part, as a showcase for her talent.
The one-woman show about Elizabeth Taylor, which is being presented by the Youngstown Playhouse and is available for streaming through Sunday, gives Boye a chance play an iconic character in all of her complexity.
The story takes place in 1961, when Taylor was on hiatus from shooting “Cleopatra” after a near-fatal bout of pneumonia. Her marriage to Eddie Fisher, which turned Taylor into a homewrecker in the tabloids, appears to be on shaky ground. And she’s invited an unseen biographer into her suite to take control of her story. The title refers to her desire to get away from Liz, the nickname the tabloids use to portray her as a scandal-seeking spoiled brat.
Boye, a Warren native now living in Chicago, has created a show that’s sympathetic to its subject, but it doesn’t whitewash the story. Early in the show, her portrayal of Taylor is cautious and a little flirtatious, trying to control the narrative and turn the writer into an ally.
As the 70-minute show continues, Taylor gets a little more loose-lipped, no doubt helped by the pills she’s taking to control her back pain and multiple glasses of champagne. The structure gives Boye a chance to play a woman who giddily recounts the happy moments and more than few dramatic monologues recounting adulterous husbands, domestic abuse and the tragic death of her third husband, Mike Todd.
Boye adds enough context to the story for those unfamiliar with Taylor’s life to follow along, but the show will play best with those who know her early film career, her famous co-stars (Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Rock Hudson) and the tabloid drama of her personal life in the 1950s and early ’60s.
One of the strongest elements of the production is its look. Boye said in an interview last week that “Call Me Elizabeth” was shot in the lounge of her Chicago apartment building. With the set decoration, it convincingly passes as a Palm Springs suite in 1961.
Hair, makeup and costuming all help make Boye believable physically as the screen icon. At times it feels like the cinematography could use a little more shadow, but it does take place during the day at a southern California desert resort, so that overall brightness is appropriate.
After reviewing a lot of online productions in the last year, “Elizabeth” easily is the most polished technically. And it’s a welcome opportunity to see a local talent return home, even if it’s on a virtual stage.
If you go …
WHAT: Kayla Boye — “Call Me Elizabeth”
WHEN: Available for on-demand viewing until 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $15 per household. Tickets are available online at youngstownplayhouse.org.
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