After 80 Years, So Help Me God! Makes Manhattan Bow

PlayBlog   After 80 Years, So Help Me God! Makes Manhattan Bow
So Help Me God! by Maurine Dallas Watkins finally got to New York this week (specifically, to Off-Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre), 80 years after The Great Depression ground it to an emphatic halt following a week of out-of-town tryouts in Brooklyn and Queens. "This is its Manhattan bow," cautiously worded the man who got it back on track and brought it in, director Jonathan Bank.

Bank's Mint Theatre Company has such a rep for T.L.C. resurrections of overlooked or underdone plays that the opus literally came to him, so help me God!, from the family of Watkins, known almost entirely as the playwright of the play Chicago, which inspired the musical. Her kin knew his rep and passed the idea along.

This comedy — a broad-stroked backstage farce pitting a terminally self-absorbed star (Kristen Johnston) against an innocent if ambitious understudy (Anna Chlumsky) — was written 20 years before "All About Eve" was even a glimmer in Mary Orr's orbs.

Johnston takes no prisoners as the rampaging diva, revising the script to suit her (wholly imagined) ladylike needs, pushing her supporting players out into the rain so she can have a private conversation and fueling her bad deportment with booze.

"When we did a reading of it last March at the Lortel, it went over like gangbusters," Johnston beamed. "People wigged out for it so I just knew audiences were going to love it. We close, no matter what, on Dec. 20 — but we could move the show…"

And, yes, the role has a real-life reference. "It's a very specific kind of actress whose whole life is a house of cards, which she keeps insisting everybody buy into. I did base the character on someone, but those words will never escape my lips."

— Harry Haun

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