Home #Hwoodtimes Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me

Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me

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Theater Review by Ethlie Ann Vare

“The Bess Mess”: How a 1940s Beauty Queen Inspired ‘Miss America’s Ugly Daughter’

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/11/19 – Bess Myerson was a fascinating woman. The first – and so far only – Jewish Miss America, she went on to become a household name as a panelist on the game show I’ve Got A Secret, then was appointed New York City’s first Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, then ran for the U.S. Senate, then got involved with a suspected mobster half her age and barely escaped prison for bribing a judge. She died in 2014 at the age of 90. It’s a remarkable and dramatic life.

Sadly, this play isn’t about Bess Myerson. It’s about her daughter, an actress and screenwriter of modest success named Barra Grant. To Grant, Myerson is your stereotypical Jewish Mother, kvetching about her daughter’s weight, hair and boyfriends and stealing sugar packets from restaurants. She could have been my mother, or yours. And while either of us might enjoy the opportunity to complain about mom for 83 uninterrupted minutes to a captive audience, the audience might not share our enjoyment.

Grant’s one-woman play (with stand-up comedienne Monica Piper off-stage as the voice of Mom) is essentially an autobiographical monologue. If you ever danced the Twist, the Swim or the Mashed Potatoes, or ironed your hair straight, you will relate to Grant’s life experience. There are some touching moments and some funny moments – many of them around her Irish-Jewish marriage — but it’s usually the ghost of Bess who gets the best lines. Re: Barbra Streisand — “I’m glad she’s such an important Jew. It takes some of the pressure off me.”

Bess frets about losing her looks, and bothers her daughter late-night phone calls, and in general sounds like your basic aging narcissist stuck with a rigid, unsympathetic child. When Grant claims that her journey is about forgiveness, one tends not to believe her; after this litany of resentment, forgiveness comes off like lip service.

Barra Grant in Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me. Photo by Darrett Sanders

Eve Brandstein, noted casting director and founder of Poetry in Motion, directs with an eye to emotional authenticity, which is challenging when you only have one performer onstage (and a fairly stiff one at that.) Set design by Elisha Schaefer is simple but elegant and effective, and both the image projections and needle-drop music choices are evocative.

Perhaps the best part of the evening was discovering the Greenway Court Theater, a 99-seat house managed by the Greenway Arts Alliance. The theater was built in 1939 as part of Fairfax High School, and renovated in 2000 to benefit the school and surrounding community. The Alliance works with students and the community to “build a vibrant artistic collaboration.” If the theater space is any indication, they’re doing a fine job. (They have a parking lot! If you’re an Angeleno, you know how special that is.)

Pageant Productions in association with Canon Theatricals present

Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me

Written and Performed by Barra Grant

Featuring Monica Piper

Directed by Eve Brandstein

Produced by Suzi Dietz

Greenway Court Theater

544 North Fairfax Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Through March 24