Greenwich House this season is batting two for two.
First it gave birth to Moisés Kaufman's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which was so instantly successful there that it had to move three blocks east to the four-times-larger Minetta Lane.
Immediately after that, Greenwich House gave birth to As Bees in Honey Drown, a play by Douglas Carter Beane which got such all-out raves for its star, an actress named J. Smith-Cameron playing a young woman named (well, self-named) Alexa Vere de Vere, that it had to move three blocks west to the three-times-larger Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street.
"Better than a poke in the nose, I guess," says the J. Smith-Cameron who was once plain Jeanie Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, and Greenville, South Carolina. Equity rules and other accidents made it into J. Smith-CameronJ to her friends.
Directed with precision by Mark Brokaw, Bees is a comedy that needles, stings, much of what it sees: the magazine world, the advertising world, the art world, the fashion world, the jet-set world, the good life, hungry writers, hungry painters, the hustle up the greasy pole of Success.
Alexa Vere de Vere from time to time throughout the play flashes into the persona of Auntie Mame, Sally Bowles, Holly Golightly and Connie Porteror Rosalind Russell, Liza Minnelli, Audrey Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead. So does J, amazingly.
Yes, of course, she'd studied those movies: Auntie Mame, Cabaret, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Lifeboat. These several months later she still doeson video. "Just a clip for each one, to get it in my ear." A tiny seed-pearl drop earring graces each ear as she sits in the darkened Lortel on an afternoon after a performance.
"At Greenwich House," she says, "I felt I'd done it on a wing and a prayer just in time for the opening. The part is so unruly, and she [Alexa] has so many crazy things to do, I sort of white-knuckled it. Now I feel I've got it cemented a little bit.
"One of my fears," she says with Alexa Vere de Vere's devastating smile, "was that off the stage I'd start talking like Alexa.."She continued, "T. Scott Cunningham"fellow actor in the show"is a really close friend. I said: 'You hear me talking like that, give me a slap on the wrist.' " Hasn't happened yet.
J. Smith, who's been in a lot of movies and will be in a lot more, including Woody Allen's next, came up to New York from Miami in the 1980's. After eight lean months she auditioned for the road tour of Crimes of the Heart. "In a funny way I didn't really want to get it. I had an apartment. I had a boyfriend." What she got instead was seven months as Babe, the kid sister, on Broadway and a lot of attention.
The apartment? "Moved a bunch of times since." The boyfriend? "That changed a bunch of times, too." Has one now. A playwright. And has all the attention anyone will ever need.
-- By Jerry Tallmer