Hollywood Arms

Writing this play with her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, was certainly a labor of love and a healing experience for Carol Burnett. Carrie died before it was staged, and Carol worked through her grief while finishing it. As a work of art, however, it fails miserably.

(Left to right) Chloe Nosan as Young Helen and Sharon Kay White as Louise
(L to R) Chloe Nosan
as Young Helen
and Sharon Kay White
as Louise
Photo by P. Switzer
Fans of Burnett may enjoy learning about her dysfunctional family—the play is based on her memoir—and there's certainly hope to be found in Burnett overcoming her alcoholic parents and finding comedic success on TV, but by sticking so closely to the facts, there's little irony and no dramatic twists to be found here.

That's what the critics said, too, when it was first produced at the Goodman in Chicago and later in New York. There is some meat, however, in the character of Louise (based on Burnett's mother), which won Michele Pawk a Tony for best supporting actress in 2002, here brought to life with a gritty performance by Sharon Kay White.

Anne Oberbroeckling as Nanny
Anne Oberbroeckling
as Nanny
Photo by P. Switzer
Burnett was mostly raised by her grandmother, the prickly and overbearing Nanny—played with gusto by Anne Oberbroeckling—the soul to whom the signature ear tugs were directed at the end of every episode of The Carol Burnett Show from 1967-78.

The Burnett role is split into Young Helen, who appears in the first act (1941), and Older Helen, who appears in the second act (1951). Chloe Nosan shows a lot of spunk as the knocked around kid trying to keep her chin up. Michell Merz-Hutchinson is winsome as the UCLA drama student and movie usher, whose big break comes one night when she entertains the audience during a projector malfunction, which leads to an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Michell Merz-Hutchinson as Older Helen
Michell Merz-Hutchinson
as Older Helen
Photo by P. Switzer
Director Terry Dodd makes the most of a weak script, filling in the frequent and trying blackouts with clips from period commercials, hit parade tunes, and historical events. Brian Mallgrave's detailed, bungalow-style motel is right of an old Hollywood snapshot. The supporting cast does a workmanlike job with the melodramatic material.

Long on nostalgia and short on dynamics, Hollywood Arms begs for a rewrite with Louise center stage; she's a Mama Rose (Gypsy) waiting to happen.

The Arvada Center's production of Hollywood Arms runs through November 23rd. 720-898-7200.

Bob Bows


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