By Charlotte Robertson
Joanne Hartstone’s The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign tells the story of Evelyn Margaret Edwards (stage name Evie Edwards), an aspiring actress who grew up in Hooverville. It covers her experiences of the Great Depression, the Hollywood Canteen, the studio system and ultimately, the cruel nature of the acting industry. The show is inspired by the tragic case of Peg Entwhistle, the 24-year-old actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign’s ‘H’. Through Evie’s story, we are made profoundly aware of how Entwhistle could have become such a tortured soul. I was hoping for something new to be revealed by Hartstone as the subject matter is well worn territory. For someone who doesn’t know much about the Golden Age of Hollywood, this show is a brilliant history lesson. However, for someone who does, it falls short of offering a unique approach.
The piece begins with street noise, show tunes and the cheering of crowds filling the room. The soundscape softens and a shriek is heard from behind Tom Kitney’s set which is simple yet effective consisting of the top of the ‘H’ from the Hollywood sign. Joanne Hartstone appears as Evie Edwards in a black dress and chorus shoes with an immaculate 40s hairstyle. Through changes in lighting and jumping on and off the H, Hartstone delves back and forth from past to present to explain what led her to her predicament.
Hartstone explores the fact that the studios aimed to link the star persona with the kind of character they played to ensure film success and sales. Stars were commodities, playing an important economic role for the studios. They were very much responsible for selling the films to the public and drawing them in. Through investigating the lives of stars such as Judy Garland, Theda Bara and Jean Harlow she highlights that they were all victims of the restrictive Hollywood star system under the rule of studios. She accurately reflects upon the façade of Hollywood and the deceitful power it had over the public through starry-eyed, idealistic and naive Evie. A perfect example of this would be when she says “I can’t tell the difference between truth and propaganda”. She comments on the notion that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios not only maintained the values that helped form and mold America and the general status quo but more importantly how the Hollywood moguls believed Amerciansim should be. Scott Eyman discusses the significant influence of Louis B. Mayer who was the producer and co-founder of MGM “…Mayer's view of America became America's view of itself” as the stars, the stories, the glitz and the glamour deeply impacted the daily lives of the American people.
Hartstone is efficacious in shedding light on the prevailing issue of sexism in the industry and the extreme importance of appearance which is unfortunately still very relevant today. Despite her sheer determination and hard work, Evie is still objectified and reduced to her looks reflecting “no one mentioned anything about acting”.
It was clear Hartstone put her heart and soul into the work and should be commended on her stamina as her performance was filled with songs, dances and portrayals of different characters from Evie’s life. Popular songs from the period definitely provide dramatic tension and are well picked for the character’s journey and plight. She delivers poignant and engaging renditions of Blue Moon and You Made Me Love You in a style reminiscent of the era.
The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign is almost too factual and I would have liked to have seen Hartstone flesh out the psyche of the character Evie Edwards rather than being more of a narrator. The script is predictable and there were pacing issues throughout however through her evident research, impressive characterization and physicality, Hartstone definitely embodied a woman of the era with flair and special care.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.