Monday, August 18, 2008

Be Brave, Anna! (The Players Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Funny isn’t mean, and mean definitely isn’t funny.

I am going to be completely upfront about my dislike of this play. I am not sure why I had such a strong reaction to it, but I did, and I feel compelled to air my grievances. Loudly. For the record, I am not suggesting that this play is bad. Just that it pissed me off.

First, the positive aspects: The dialogue is sharp and witty, the cast is more than capable and seems to be having a good time, and that is always fun to watch. The show moves along at a good clip keeping the mood light. The costumes and minimal set are all appropriate for the occasion. But...

Be Brave, Anna!, by virtue of its title, postures itself to be a play that is going to take a sympathetic, albeit comedic, look at the life and tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith – a woman whose name, likeness and story are both literally and figuratively the stuff of which E! True Hollywood Stories are made. I challenge you to find anyone over the age of seven who doesn’t know the major plot points of her sad, short life.

Why, then, is this play necessary? I ask this not rhetorically, but with a real desire to understand what the impetus for this play really was. If it were an attempt to illuminate a side of Anna Nicole not yet served up for public consumption by the handlers who were all too eager to make money at her expense, then, I might find it interesting. But to serve up the same old shtick – to simply paint Anna Nicole as a bumbling dumb country bumpkin and to suggest that she is absolutely nothing more than the image the media constructed for us to lust over and laugh at, is, to me at least, not funny. Obviously something about this woman touched a chord with the celebrity-crazed-reality-show-addicted American public (and, curiously, with me – who knew?), or we wouldn't be writing plays about her, but to perpetuate the humiliation she endured in her life after her death is just mean. I don’t think the creators of this show intended to be mean, but this play felt mean to me. Surely there are many things about Anna Nicole Smith that we didn’t know – a love of books, perhaps, or an allergy to flowers, a fear of flying or a freakish aptitude for math. Who knows? But surely there had to be more to her than what we saw. Why not write a play about that?

If only the creators of Be Brave, Anna! had used their collective and considerable talents and taken a more sympathetic approach to their subject, and made an attempt to see what was really going in the head underneath the bleach blonde hair and in the heart behind the big boobs. My guess is that is where the untold story and the real drama of Anna Nicole Smith really exists. And it is undoubtedly more compelling than any E! True Hollywood Story.

Be Brave, Anna! plays at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street just south of West 3rd St. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 9:45pm; Friday, August 22 at 3pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 3:30pm. Visit or for more info and to purchase tickets.

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