A&E

Review: ‘Call Me Elizabeth’ a mesmerizing show

Playwright Kayla Boye long has been fascinated with acting icon Elizabeth Taylor. In a magnificent effort to pay tribute to this extraordinary woman, Boye wrote “Call Me Elizabeth,” and also stars in the 70-minute monologue.

The play was inspired by Taylor’s 1961 Beverly Hills Hotel conversation with writer Max Lerner in planning her biography. (He is never seen, and Boye addresses us as if we were Max.) Interrupted by phone calls from current husband Eddie Fisher, and window watching her daughter Liza taking swimming lessons in the hotel pool, not to mention the continual pouring of champagne and dealing with back pain, Taylor discusses her early life, previous marriages (and she’s had some disasters) and acting roles.

When the interview begins, Taylor has just won the Academy Award for “Butterfield 8,” which she categorizes as “porn,” believing she should have won for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

She’s still recovering from pneumonia (she received over 5,000 get well wishes), and she makes very clear that she hates the nickname Liz. Taylor reveals life with a stage-pushing mom, Big Daddy L.B. Mayer’s control at MGM, her acting start at age 11 with “Lassie Come Home” where she was barely noticed, to “National Velvet,” which insured her celebrity.

Taylor discusses her greatest love, third husband Mike Todd, whose overloaded private Lockheed jet crashed into a mountain in New Mexico. (“I should have been with him” – a cold kept her home.)

Boye reveals Taylor’s involvement with the activist humanitarian fight against HIV/AIDS and her three greatest friends, “the only ones I can trust” – Roddy McDowall, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Taylor warns Lerner to keep their lifestyles out of his book. It is Hudson’s death much later on that results in Taylor testifying before the U.S. Senate for funding.

Taylor dishes the fan magazines “as if there’s two Elizabeths,” and hopes the Lerner biography will set the record of her life straight. “A star must twinkle, it can’t be tarnished or dull.”

Throughout this one-woman show, there’s tension, sadness, great joy and pride. You will be thoroughly engaged from start to finish. The show plays without intermission, and contains adult language and themes.

Both Boye and director Erin Kraft are Chicago-based artists. Boye may be recognized from appearances at Porchlight, Chicago Shakespeare and Drury Lane, usually in a musical capacity. Boye is a fascinating actress, also an attractive, multi-talented one. I admit that upon seeing the beauty mark, luxurious black hair, trademark black dress and huge diamond ring, I feared an impersonation, an impression of Taylor, but Boye becomes Taylor.

And Boye has written a clear and thoughtful dramatization of Taylor’s life story. Things that worried her, things that didn’t show up in Hedda Hopper’s column or fan magazines. The play is tight and well-paced; she began writing the script in 2017, and what’s even more remarkable is that “Call Me Elizabeth” is her first play.

And although 1961 was a different era, the show resounds with echoes of what women still deal with today. I applaud Porchlight Music Theatre for teaming up with female-owned Chicago production company KB Productions to present “Call Me Elizabeth.”

It’s the ending that will make you chuckle and sigh. “I’m so sick of playing the part of Elizabeth Taylor” is said right before she receives the call that the often-postponed film “Cleopatra” is back on. The million dollar salary she requested was “payback for my youth spent on a stage lot.” She’s also informed that Rex Harrison and Richard Burton have signed on, and dumps the fan magazines on her way out the door. And we all know what that means.

• Regina Belt-Daniels grew up in a household that revered Elizabeth Taylor and the icons of the 1960s. She has been involved with the theater in many capacities from acting to directing to stage management, and hopes for the return of live theater with live audiences very soon.

IF YOU VIEW

WHAT: “Call Me Elizabeth”

WHEN: Through June 14

COST: $12.95

INFORMATION: Broadway on Demand at tinyurl.com/ae68skrt