Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story, written and performed by Romy Nordlinger and directed by Lorca Peress, tells the story of the real-life star of the stage and screen, Alla Nazimova. With immersive sound design, creative videography, projections, and skilled performances, Nordlinger's solo show is a spellbinding homage to an oft-forgotten trailblazer.
The play opens with a jazz trio, Les Trois Gitanes, performing in the space. The group played an impressive thirty-minute bass, violin and guitar set. After the concert, the play began with a manic audio and video montage. The sound designer, Nick T. Moore, has worked in both theatre and film, two mediums he combines for this production. He expertly sets the time, place and tone of the soundscape. This period piece felt immersively authentic. For example, the inclusions of Nazimova's real work put the piece in perspective and accentuated the time period. The sound and the video complement each other and help portray the story and themes.
Romy Nordlinger's husband, Adam Burns, designed the videos. Burns's bio states he has a "lifelong fascination with the 1920s," which he brought to the work. The amount of detail and specificity in editing the videos are evidence of the considerable effort that went into creating them. The use of projections helped transform the space into different locales throughout the story. In addition, the projections created interesting visuals as Nordlinger moved through the videos. The timing of the projections and performance felt seamless and well-rehearsed even though, at the end of the show, Nordlinger said there were technical mishaps.
As the writer and performer of this one-woman show, Nordlinger is the Nazimova expert. She transforms into Alla with extremely believable ease. Nordlinger also made Alla an exceptionally likable narrator. She is magnetic, engaging and funny. Nordlinger also plays a handful of other characters in addition to Alla throughout the play. Every character has a distinct physicality and vocal quality. They are all incredibly unique. This impressive performance shows Nordlinger at the top of her game, a master in character acting.
It is fitting that the show is being produced during pride month. Alla Nazimova existed as an LGBTQ icon in a time of great societal disapproval of homosexuality. Today she might be labeled as a bisexual figurehead in the entertainment industry. Garden of Alla celebrates Nazimova's queerness without needing to explain or contextualize it. As a queer person, I felt seen and represented, which I greatly appreciated.
The Theaterlab space features a pole predominantly in the center, creating many staging problems. At moments the pole blocked the projections and at moments, it blocked Nordlinger's performance. In addition, Nordlinger was sometimes not lit or was not in her light. Considering I attended on opening night, I am hesitant to remark on the technical qualms of the show. Perhaps, they hadn't gotten the chance to work out the kinks. Secondly, Nordlinger acknowledged technical difficulties after the show.
Despite these technical snafus, Garden of Alla is still a remarkable solo show. Fans of old Hollywood are sure to love the show and its vintage references. Alla Nazimova would be incredibly proud of this portrayal of her life.
“Garden of Alla”
Written and Performed by Romy Nordlinger
Directed by Lorca Peress
June 17 - 25, 2022
Theaterlab (357 W 36 Street, 3rd floor)
CARMEN BURBRIDGE is a Brooklyn-based actor and writer, originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. They have worked with New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse and The Farm Theater. It is her mission to create a convergence of hearts and minds in an effort to expose underrepresented stories and make the world a better place. They are passionate about trauma informed work, laughter, play and community.