By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Gradually, the decrepit Bette gives way to the younger, more glamorous one. Shaw, draped in a gorgeous bronze-hued satin dress by costumer Patty Greer McGarity that's similar to the star's party frock in All About Eve, starts to click into the role. When she cocks her head just so and darts her eyes around, Shaw does look a bit like her. But she smiles too much and uses that staccato "Ha!" 20 times too often. And a Southern drawl sounds fine in the snippets of Jezebel but otherwise betrays Shaw's inability to perfect Bette's clipped Yankee speech patterns.
Most of the gossipy anecdotes shared in All About Bette are all too familiar to dedicated Turner Classics watchers. She dishes on her longtime nemesis Joan Crawford (her co-star in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?), saying, "The only male star she didn't sleep with was Lassie...and I have no proof of that." And she lashes out at daughter B.D., who wrote a nasty Mommie Dearest-like tell-all. There are lots of stories about Bette's pushy mother and about her many husbands, all of whom failed her in some important aspect.
Only two fresh tidbits emerge and those are saved until late in the second act. Seems part-time lover Howard Hughes had bedroom problems that Bette helped him overcome (to use aviator terms, he could take off fine but landed too soon). And she brewed up a bitter rivalry with Tallulah Bankhead over who would play the lead in the screen version of The Little Foxes (Bette won). Bankhead, says Bette, claimed to have only two interests in life. One was old money. The other gets the biggest, dirtiest laugh in the show.
All About Bette: An Evening with Bette Davis continues through July 16 at Theatre Three, 214-871-3300.
Sprinkled with obscure references to Old Hollywood figures such as Slim Summerville (character actor) and Orry-Kelly (costume designer), All About Betteprobably plays best to an older crowd (which Theatre Three caters to anyway). It's a pleasant enough trip down trivia lane, but with more creative direction and some reworking of the script, it could be better. Every great star, after all, benefits from skilled direction and judicious editing.