The bigger-than-life novelist Jacqueline Susann, who promoted herself to celebrity author status in the 1960s and '70s, disappears from the Pittsburgh Public Theater stage Dec. 9, when the world premiere play, Paper Doll, ends its run.
Wildly divided reviews met the punchy, nonlinear play by Barbara Zitwer and Mark Hampton, with Variety predicting a boffo commercial future (big hitters like Marlo Thomas, F. Murray Abraham and director Leonard Foglia are in the Pitt staging's mix) and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette grumbling that the material was "flimsy" and "meanders" through monologues and flashbacks.
Paper Doll opened Nov. 16 at Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theatre after previews that began Nov, 8.
Thomas (TV's "That Girl") plays Susann, complete with wild 70s costumes, and Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham is Irving Mansfield, the husband-manager-promoter of the "Valley of the Dolls" novelist.
* Leonard Foglia (Broadway's Master Class) directs the new work by Hampton (Full Gallop) and Barbara J. Zitwer, which is presented in association with Montauk Highway, Inc. Given the talent involved, the resident tryout is clearly a test of the new material toward a possible commercial future.
The starry leading players help make Paper Doll the third high profile production in three seasons at the resident Pennsylvania company. August Wilson's King Hedley II had its world premiere at PPT and the Broadway musical, By Jeeves, had its resident tryout there in early 2001 .
Emmy Award-winner Thomas ("That Girl," Broadway's Social Security) plays the flamboyant, troubled Susann, who died of cancer in 1974. Susann prefigured the celebrity trash lit authors of today. The cast includes Joanne Genelle in multiple roles, Armando Rodriguez as Susann protege Jésus and a black poodle named Barney as Susann's beloved dog, Josie.
The recent film, "Isn't She Great" also focused on Susann, with Bette Midler as the sassy, outlandish, rags-to-riches author. Part of the new play is set in Pittsburgh in 1971.
Co-author Hampton memorably co-wrote Full Gallop, the Diana Vreeland solo play, with actress-writer Mary Louise Wilson. With longtime friend Stuart Ross, creator of Forever Plaid, he recently co-authored a musical based on the life of the '30s singing trio, the Boswell Sisters, which recently had its world premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Co-author Zitwer is the founder and owner of an international literary agency based in New York City, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. She is also a film and television producer and her feature films include the cult classic, "Vampire's Kiss," starring Nicholas Cage. Zitwer is the author of the "Magic of the Ocean" series published by Warner Books. Paper Doll is her first play.
"The world-premiere of Paper Doll continues our goal of producing an exciting mix of classics, great musicals and new plays," said artistic director Ted Pappas, in a statement.
Designers are Michael McGarty (set), Martin Pakledinaz (costume), Brian Nason (lighting) and Zach Moore (sound).
Tickets for Paper Doll range from $28-$50. For PPT tickets and further information, call (412) 316-1600 or visit the Public's box office at the O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Downtown. Tickets and more information are also available at www.ppt.org.
— By Kenneth Jones