Leigh’s demons


Glamour shot.

Glamour shot.

Rated 5.0

It’s the perfect marriage—a fascinating play with a completely mesmerizing performance. Vivien is playwright Rick Foster’s imaginative backstage look at the turbulent life and times of actress Vivien Leigh, a troubled woman embodied in a truly remarkable one-woman performance by Janis Stevens.This short three-week stint at Sacramento Theatre Company’s intimate Stage Two is a return engagement of Foster-Stevens’ amazing partnership.

First conceived while both worked at Sierra Repertory Theater, Vivien went to Sacramento’s California Stage in 2000, and subsequently to San Francisco and New York, where Stevens garnered top acting awards including the 2005/06 Drama Desk Award for Best Solo Performance.

Although Stevens has a somewhat passing resemblance to an older Leigh, it’s her emersion into the core and spirit of the late actress that breathes life into this portrayal of a larger-than-life personality.

With just a subtle gesture or expression, Stevens unmasks the talented actress to reveal a lost, lonely, mentally unbalanced woman. Leigh is best known for two of the most famous roles in movie history—Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire—and for her long turbulent marriage to theater legend Laurence Olivier, her showbiz friends and her mental and emotional breakdowns.

Rather than presenting her life in a linear form, Foster places Leigh in her safe place—a theater backstage where Leigh begins a disjointed stream of consciousness, introducing us to various figures in her life. Foster creatively intersperses dialogue from Leigh’s various roles with recreated conversations with acquaintances to help capture this complex woman’s triumphs, ghosts and demons.

Stevens sensitively melds the Scarlett side of Leigh—the dramatic flair and passionate personality, with the Blanche side—the delicate lost soul forever teetering toward madness.

Nowadays, Leigh would be eaten alive by the tabloids, but in her day, much of her pain was played out privately, a pain portrayed most extraordinarily by the talented Stevens.