By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In our culture, to receive a call from the office of Oprah Winfrey is about as close one can get to receiving a call from God. To be on the couch next to the woman with the Midas touch before millions of TV viewers is a life-changing experience, or so the mythology goes. Oprah is, after all, the woman who pushed for and helped get The Color Purple onto Broadway, and the woman who pushed for and helped get Barack Obama into the White House.
Oprah figures in the lives of two women appearing on local stages, but in contrary ways because of the wildly contrary personalities of the pair. Cynthia Silver’s acting career never quite got off the ground. She nonetheless got a call from Oprah’s office. It was part of a bizarre and deeply upsetting adventure that she describes in harrowing and often affecting detail in her one-woman show, Bridezilla Strikes Back!, which just opened at the Zephyr Theater.
Meanwhile, you can see Linda Twine, a regal African-American woman holding a baton in the orchestra pit of the Pasadena Playhouse for the production of Stormy Weather. She’s the show’s conductor and musical director — a position she’s held on Broadway for hits such as The Wiz; Caroline, or Change; The Wild Party; Jelly’s Last Jam; Ain’t Misbehavin’; the 41-city tour of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; and, of course, The Color Purple.
In an interview at a cafe around the corner from the Pasadena Playhouse, Twine mentioned Oprah as the producer of the Broadway production of The Color Purple, but really didn’t make much of it. I’m unclear if the two have ever even met, though it’s hard to believe that a show’s producer would have no contact with its musical director. Twine doesn’t drop names; you have to drag them out of her with pliers. That’s part of her self-effacing temperament.
In Silver’s show (co-written by Kenny Finkle and directed by Lee Sankowich), the performer doesn’t stop dropping names, even when her “friendships” with superstars are entirely invented, which they frequently are. Jennifer Aniston is among the fantasy friends with whom she has imaginary conversations — onstage, in front of a paying audience.
Among her fantasies is an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She not only confesses it freely in Bridezilla Strikes Back!, but whenever she does so, the Oprah show’s emblem appears behind her on a video screen. Silver plays out the interview and does a pretty good Oprah impersonation. And she probably did, as she says, actually get that call from Oprah’s secretary. (What happened next wasn’t exactly the answer to her dreams, but I won’t give that away.)
This is pertinent because of what Oprah, as an American deity, actually represents, which is a culture of confession that happens to be both the theme and style of Silver’s show. The phenomenon of spilling one’s guts in public as a form of personal and communal therapy seems to be in the American DNA, a trait that we’ve now exported around the world. You can track it back to the plays of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, David Mamet and August Wilson — plays that hang on the principle that bleating out one’s vulnerabilities while thumping one’s chest or yelling or cursing or weeping is a form of a high drama that’s highly improving for all of us. You just don’t find this style in many British or European plays prior to 1950, certainly not in Pinter or Chekhov or Ibsen. Those plays ride on the culture of decorum and privacy. That’s just not us. And it’s certainly not Oprah.
Oprah, however, is a regal deity that brings dignity to the art of confession. Her blue-collar cousin would be Geraldo Rivera; her white-trash stepchild is reality TV, which is where Silver’s saga begins and ends.
In August of 2002, Silver, a struggling actress, was informed by her wedding “event designer” that a British film company, September Films, was creating a “documentary series” called Manhattan Brides, which followed couples through the preparation of their nuptials. Her fiancé, Matt Silver (who still works as a production stage manager on Broadway), was less than impressed and, according to Cynthia’s confession, said he didn’t like the silky tone of the British producers, and didn’t trust them. “It’s a reality TV show,” he told her. “No, hon,” she replied, “It’s a documentary series. It’s like Nova, but about weddings.” Similarly confusing “exposure” with “acting,” she also believed that the experience might jump-start her performing career. That imagined jump-start is where her fantasies of appearing on Oprah had their origin.