Ever since the Miss America pageant began, the beautiful contestants have embodied the dreams of every young girl in the nation. Except one. Her name is Barra Grant, whose mother Bess Myerson was the first and only Jewish Miss America in 1945, making her achievement, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, seen as an affirmation of the Jewish place in American life. In fact, the media icon had it all, making frequent television appearances during the 1950s and 1960s and then was a commissioner in the New York City government. With her sights on a political life, Myerson served on presidential commissions from the 1960s through the 1980s, and then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
But her career in public service ended in the late 1980s when she was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges after falling in love with a much-younger man tied to the Mafia. And even though she was acquitted, losing her reputation caused her to lose a little of her mind. As it turns out, the person who may have suffered the most all along the way was her only child,Barra Grant, her short, pudgy and frizzy-haired daughter so ill-equipped to enter the same star-studded life enjoyed by her gorgeous mother.
Barra Grant is currently wowing audiences sharing her autobiographical play MISS AMERICA'S UGLY DAUGHTER: Bess Myerson & Me through August 26 in the intimate Edye Theater at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The poignant two-character solo show, written and performed to emotional perfection by Grant, with voiceovers by Monica Piper as Bess Myerson, is about the seismic mother-daughter relationship Barra endured with her distant, totally self-centered, fame and career-obsessed mother who never thought her only child was never good enough. Of course she was, and is, but the journey to get there is the premise for her incredibly personal and extremely funny play.
It begins with Barra at home in Hollywood, being constantly interrupted by late night phone calls from her mother, suffering with insomnia in New York and reaching out to the one person in the world that is still there for her - her daughter. During the 90-minute show that runs without an intermission, Barra listens to her mother's ramblings, which in turn cause her to reflect on the roller coaster ride that took her mother from the heights of fame and admiration to the precipice of a prison cell. And of course, how she always felt like a second-class citizen at home, no matter how hard she tried to get the much-deserved attention from her distracted mother.
Now an award-winning writer and director, Barra has created one of the most entertaining, informative, and hysterically funny solo shows I have ever seen. With her marvelous writing style and self-effacing humor, along with the brilliant direction of Eve Brandstein (who worked with Barra for 16 months to create MISS AMERICA'S UGLY DAUGHTER), this behind-the-scenes story will totally envelop you from start to finish. As she answers the many ongoing calls, beginning at two in the morning and continuing until dawn, we are taken on the journey of Barra's life, with Bess ever-present, fixated on "improving" her daughter by attempting to mold her into a younger version of herself. Her advice is not very helpful, causing Barra to wage a feisty struggle trying to fit in at school, meet the right man, find a career, and forge her own place in the universe. And by the end of this play, you will know that she has!
It is Barra's unique insider's view of the challenges, confusion, and explosions of the awkward childhood of a young girl who craved a mother's love she never received that will pull you in and keep you in the palm of her hand as well as her heart. No doubt any of us raised by parents from "Old World" families will identify with the need to succeed, perhaps pushed just as far as Barra was to achieve the goals of the parent and not the child. As her stories are shared, adding to the magic of her presentation are many photographs from both the two women's lives projected on the back wall thanks to projection and sound designer Fritz Davis, whose choice of familiar background songs had me singing under my breath throughout.
MISS AMERICA'S UGLY DAUGHTER: Bess Myerson & Me is performed Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday matinees at 3, at the Edye Stage of the Broad Theatre, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica. Tickets are $55. For tickets and additional information about the show visit: www.missamericasuglydaughter.com or www.brownpapertickets.com and enter the name of the show.
Curated from Broadway World