Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

God Save Gertrude

Also see Sharon's review of Gogol Project

Jill Van Velzer
There's nothing wrong with the idea behind God Save Gertrude. Why should Hamlet get all the psychoanalysis? Gertrude is a woman who went pretty quickly from one husband to another—and the evidence strongly suggests her second husband killed her first. So what, exactly, goes on in the head of someone who truly loves her husband, and then hops in bed with his murderer? Is it simply an attempt to retain power? A complete 180 in political views? An attempt to find the best chance at survival for herself? her son? her people? Surely, there's something here worth exploring.

Deborah Stein's world premiere play (with songs) resets the story in a universe described in the program as the "recent future or an alternative now." Gertrude is a former punk rock queen who, with her musician "Man," ended up with political power. Then, in an event summed up with, "I saw that we needed change, and I changed," Gertrude supported her second "Man" in a coup against the first. (The political system here isn't entirely well pinned down. The second man is called the President, but he appears to be more of a military dictator.) Where Gertrude fits into all of this isn't particularly clear—she appears to be an Evita of sorts, having power by means of her prior fame, and the fact that the people generally adore her.

We join the play at the time of yet another revolution. Some rebels are challenging the authority of Gertrude's second husband and she has taken shelter from the bombing (and ominous sounds of jack-booted marching) in a burnt-out theatre (eerie design by Susan Gratch). Imagining the cheering crowds of yesteryear, Gertrude grabs a mic and tells her fictional audience, in a rambling monologue punctuated by punk numbers, exactly what landed her here. It's part excuse, part manifesto and part the ravings of someone losing her grip on reality. Throughout the piece, Gertrude has visions of scenes with her Man, (the second, not the first), her son and his girlfriend. (The son is billed in the program as "Mama's Boy," which is correct as to his parentage, although not his attitude. The Ophelia of the piece is billed as "Daddy's Girl," which makes no sense at all, as her father isn't referred to and she doesn't seem particularly attached to him.)

There are a few good lines here. Gertrude talks about having a "punk rock soul inside this society matron shell," and Jill Van Velzer's delivery walks the line between self-effacing comedy and declaration of self. Van Velzer gives a valiant performance, but she doesn't have enough to work with, and gets little support from others on stage. (In particular, James Horan as the current Man is not nearly as frightening or creepily evil as he needs to be.) The biggest problem, though, is that the script, which wants so desperately to be relevant, simply isn't. It doesn't escape Hamlet enough to be its own entity (why does Gertrude not have visions of the first Man?), and the disjointed fragments of history and social unrest aren't enough to create a compelling story. The punk numbers are passionately delivered, but the dialogue between them just fails to keep our interest.

God Save Gertrude runs at The Theatre@Boston Court through November 8, 2009. For tickets and information, see

The Theatre@Boston Court—Jessica Kubzansky & Michael Michetti, Artistic Directors; Michael Seel, Executive Director—presents God Save Gertrude. Written by Deborah Stein; Music by David Hanbury; Lyrics by Deborah Stein and David Hanbury; Directed by Michael Michetti. Musical Director and Sound Design Rob Oriol; Scenic Design Susan Gratch; Lighting Design Steven Young; Costume Design Soojin Lee; Video Design Jason H. Thompson; Prop Design Nick Santiago; Assistant Director Courtney Harper; Production Stage Manager Susan K. Coulter; Casting Director Michael Donovan, CSA; Key Art Christopher Komuro; Publicist Aldrich & Associates.

Gertrude - Jill Van Velzer
Mama's Boy - Steve Coombs
Daddy's Girl - Lily Holleman
Man - James Horan

Photo: Ed Krieger

- Sharon Perlmutter

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