When you think of midcentury bombshells with acting chops, and a life story custom made for the scandal sheets, who comes to mind? Currently, it may not be Ava Gardner, but after seeing this knockout show, it will be.
Gardner’s life story is told in Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner, co-written by and starring Alessandra Assaf. It’s an extended one-way conversation with Rene Jordan, her long-time personal assistant, and a couple of cassettes worth of memories as Gardner considers publishing her memoir.
The aging icon is in her dressing room on the set of the 1974 movie Earthquake, in which she’s co-starring with Charlton Heston. She shares that her ex, Frank Sinatra, has recently reached out, presenting a proposal as ultimatum: re-marry him or he’ll marry Barbara Marx. She’s trying to avoid his follow-up calls, maybe.
Noting that she never met a swear jar she couldn’t fill, Gardner proceeds to pour out her heart. Her finances are at a low point, compelling her to take on a hackneyed role in a disaster film where “falling Styrofoam is the star and we’re just the props it falls around.” To refill her coffers, it’s either writing a memoir or selling her jewels, and she’s “kind of attached to my jewels.”
The show includes reminiscences about her tumultuous times with Sinatra (“I love him no matter how much I hate him”) and her numerous other husbands and lovers, from Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw to Howard Hughes and a particularly harrowing George C. Scott. Of herself and her friends Lana, Arlene and Esther, Gardner says, “All of us were lousy choosers of men.”
In a lifelong quest for respect, trust and loyalty, Gardner was frequently disappointed. As she learned, “People treat you the way you teach them to treat you.”
Assaf carries herself with Old Hollywood bearing, beautifully portraying Gardner’s straightforward pragmatism, self-deprecating humor and charismatic presence in one captivating performance. She wrote the well-executed show with Michael Lorre; Michael A. Shepperd directs, with a terrific set featuring movie star- and era-appropriate furniture and many special touches.
Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner is part of Whitefire Theatre’s Solofest 2023, a spectacular lineup that runs through March 19. Twelve O’Clock Tales runs Sundays at 2:00pm through March 5. Tickets are $25 and are available here. The Whitefire Theatre is at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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