No, Shirley Booth hasn’t come down from sitcom heaven. Instead, a comedienneactress named Hazelle (rhymes with pastel) graces the stage of New York’s American Place Theatre in a one-woman show.
Part of HBO’s yearlong celebration of comedy, this inspirational hour is more theater than standup. Subject matter coalesces, naturally enough, around the identity of black women. All the characters are strong, demanding their due from the world.
Hazelle brings lots of passion and acting skills to a series of sharply observed characters starting with Vavooshka, a transsexual diva with a sidekick called Silence, the head of a mannequin.
Next we’re introduced to Miss Millie, an ambitious woman newly arrived in America, and Chantiece, a vampish creature always ready to dis nappy-headed girls and her last man.
Additional creations include Willie, a Puerto Rican subway panhandler, and Bertha “Bust” Washington, who celebrates the power of full-figured women in Spandex.
A slightly maudlin but powerful note is struck with Mother, a religious woman from the South whose fashion designer son has AIDS.
Lovely Hazelle, born in Trinidad and raised in Brooklyn, has the ability to transform her face and voice in subtle yet telling ways. One dress, with various additions and accoutrements, is worn the whole time. Fairly intimate space allows her to interact with audience, who seem to be having a marvelous time.
Hazelle should be counted as a first-rate monologuist. Measured in terms of laughs per minute, her material is good but not spectacular. It should make viewers smile at the recognizable and admire the boisterous performance.
Production is top-flight.