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Celebrity Autobiography

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Pretend someone finds your childhood diary and runs excerpts in a newspaper. Or that, during a time of financial need, you reveal something personal in exchange for money and it shows up on the Internet. Or maybe your pathological need to be loved is so great people are imitating you at parties.

All that's Celebrity Autobiography, now at City Theatre, where passages of books written by famous (or wannabe famous) people are read with a poker-faced sense of purpose right out of a Ken Burns documentary.

The show -- an off-Broadway hit conceived by Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel -- features a rotating roster of readers and material, both of which change weekly during the open-ended run. Alongside several local performers, the night I attended the cast included TV legend Lee Meriwether; film and TV actor John Marshall Jones; and Broadway performer Annie Golden. Among the show's "authors" were Sylvester Stallone, Suzanne Somers and Tiger Woods.

I gotta say that, initially, I had some problems. On one level there's a great deal of pleasure watching the actors "sell" the material. Robin Abramson was ditzy-serious reading the seriously ditzy words of Joan Lunden; Meriwether was oblivious pomposity itself as Ivana Trump; and Jones' slyly arched eyebrow knocked the Vanna White section out of the park.

But really ... how funny is it to mock Marilu Henner? Or Kenny Loggins? Or David Cassidy? Golden's comedic skill in reading Somers' "poetry" is nothing short of amazing, but I was increasingly uncomfortable laughing at people whose problems (whether emotional or financial) led them to write these books. It's not comedy ... it's shooting a large fish in a small barrel.

But I'm very happy to report that the second half of this 90-minute show rises above all that and achieves comic Nirvana. In one section, the books by Loni Anderson, Burt Reynolds and Reynolds' assistant are spliced together for a fractured view of Anderson and Reynolds' stormy relationship. Here the evening becomes less about making fun of losers and instead chronicles the he-said-she-said bitterness behind lots of break-ups (famous and not).

And the one-of-a-kind finale recaps the 20th century's most famous celebrity scandal ... when Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor, who left Fisher for Richard Burton. Using the memoirs of Fisher, Reynolds and Taylor, the evening closes out with a nuclear blast of laughter.

 

Celebrity Autobiography continues at City Theater in an open-ended run. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-CITY or www.citytheatrecompany.org

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