On August 5, 1953, Deborah Kerr finds herself pacing across the living room of her recently-renovated home, debating, doubting, questioning her marriage. Furniture cloaked in a white drop cloth, a lamp (with an ashtray halfway down its base), and a black purse on a table set the scene. This mostly-white wonderland is a bit of foreshadowing—sadly, we are about to experience a play that is just as bland. Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer/photographer and owner of Michael Howard Studios Gabrielle Berberich is the director and co-writer of this production. With such a talented heavy-hitter, one would assume a home run, so to speak. Caitlin Simpson (Will O’Hare’s “Macbeth”) is a classically-trained and gifted actress who will absolutely see many larger roles in the near future; this is a certainty. But this play is more board than spring, so she’ll have to wait. As she shouts for her husband to get ready for the premiere of her film “From Here to Eternity,” Kerr finds herself in an existential fight: why stay married when she’s in love with someone else? Her co-star in the movie is Burt Lancaster. He also happens to be the man she had many intimacies with in Hawaii while shooting the star-studded feature. Lancaster has just sent her a rose bouquet, a mink shawl, and a love note. You almost wish romantic music were playing in the background. There always seems to be something missing from the play. Kerr remarks, “Kerr rhymes with star,” not once mentioning that it was Louis B. Mayer, co-founder of MGM, who said it first. Glasgow-born Kerr was the daughter of a World War I vet, Capt. Arthur Charles Kerr-Trimmer, who lost his leg during the Battle of the Somme—something that might explain why she married an RAF fighter ace. With such an introspective look at one’s life, you’d think some of this would come up. But the subject is never even broached. During her monologue, she calls Lancaster’s hotel, though she only reaches him once. She thanks him for the gifts and says she misses him. Of working in Hollywood, she says, “It would have been easier to have stayed a shop girl, a secretary, or a third-rate ballerina.” She’s become what so many in an industry made to simulate life become: disillusioned. There is nothing unique about her experience, it seems. At least, it’s not truly communicated by the stage production. We are, in essence, injected into the life of Ms. Simpson’s Kerr; however, we don’t get the full plunger, and barely break the skin of an actress the world should know more about. If you knew anything about Kerr’s films, let alone about the actress herself, you could better relate to what happens in the play’s 35 minutes. And it truly is a travesty that Deborah Kerr, who starred in “The King and I,” is not more celebrated. One of three actresses to receive 6 Oscar nominations without a single win doesn’t seem to transcend time and space like a Marilyn, a Judy, or a Grace Kelly. With her affair, her romanticizing of the beginning of her marriage, and her questioning the limelight…it seems her story is not altogether different from that of nearly every other actor or actress who has ever worked in Hollywood. Hopefully that will change in its future iterations.
“Deborah Kerr: After Eternity” Written and Performed by Caitlin Simpson Oct. 5 at 7:30pm, Oct. 30 at 7:30pm, Nov. 8 at 7:30pm Director and Co-Playwright: Gabrielle Berberich Dramaturg: Jessica Corn Photo: courtesy of the production United Solo 2018 Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.