By Virginia Schneider
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/10/23 – New York actress Romy Nordlinger has written and is performing in “Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story” at Theatre West Playhouse, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd West, Los Angeles in a very limited engagement, July 7 – 23, 2023. Extraordinary talent, an unbelievable true story, and a fascinating character make this 80-minute play like watching the walls of a museum come alive at night and all the ghosts tell you what really went down.
Nordlinger has composed a fascinating history lesson of Alla Nazimova, a vibrant, extraordinary talent born in 1879, who fled an abusive childhood in Russia to study with Stanislovski, performing at the famed Moscow Art Theatre before coming to America and taking first Broadway, then Hollywood by storm. Yet few know of Nazimova today. “An artist only dies when no one is left who remembers them.” In her one-woman show, Nordlinger won’t let anyone forget the unique force of nature that was Nazimova.
Nordlinger has researched her heroine well. An ingenious multimedia slide and video presentation (brilliantly compiled by Adam Jesse Burns, with sound by Nick T. Moore and key art photography by David Wayne Fox) of archival black and white photos and video footage shows us clips from Nazimova’s performances in Moscow and Broadway stages, her 39th Street Theatre, her silent film performances including the scandalous Salome, and especially, Nazimova’s beloved home, Garden of Alla. The multimedia images explode on a stage seemingly packed with characters.
Broadway’s most successful star of the early 20th Century, (who went just by Nazimova, long before ‘Cher’ and ‘Madonna’) sold out so many performances in the early 1900’s, the Shubert Organization named a theatre after her on the Great White Way. (39th & Broadway). Nazimova then headed to Hollywood where she quickly became the most sought-after actor in town, negotiating a contract with Metro herself, which made her the town’s highest paid actor.
But Nazimova’s fame would be inextricably linked to her most beloved creation – her Garden of Alla. Hollywood’s most infamous and famous playground for all the gliteratti in town. For those unfamiliar with the famous sprawling estate, Garden of Alla was a home off what is now Sunset Boulevard, which Nazimova purchased in 1918 and turned into the most glorious playground in Hollywood during the 1920’s and 30’s, with a guest list including every actor, writer and celebrity from New York and L.A.
Drunken resident F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a postcard to himself, Harpo Marx drove Sergei Rachmaninoff mad with his pounding on the piano, Barbara Stanwyck, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, Dorothy Parker, Maureen O’Hara, Clifford Odets, Ernest Hemingway, Lillian Hellman, Buster Keaton, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead, Humphrey Bogart and hundreds more partied there. Errol Flynn and John Barrymore lived there. Charles Laughton swam in the pool on lunch breaks from filming of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Why did the celebrities flock to the Garden? Most say it was because they could be away from the press, and be themselves. To have fun, to party, and for the privacy which provided the discretion the famous needed. Nazimova is credited with coining the term “sewing circle” for hers (and many others) lesbian affairs.
While Nordlinger’s Nazimova laughs, telling audiences some wild (and true) celebrity gossip, what she most loves is the garden she has created. As she describes her haven, we see the plants, the palm trees, smell the hyacinths she planted herself, we hear the giggling laughter of late-night revelers diving into the pool, hear the crickets and birdsong and we understand, this is the peace she has created for herself, alongside her vast success. We clearly see the pride she takes in cultivating her garden, as she did her characters, her craft and her unique lifestyle, which were exceptional, especially for a woman of her day.
Nordlinger recreates many characters from Nazimova’s life, especially the men who find her talent and attempt to use it for their own personal gain. From producers to her ‘lavender-marriage’ husband who outs their relationship after Salome ruins both their careers. He goes on to marry an heiress, while Nazimova’s career goes up in flames and she is forced to sell her beloved Garden of Alla. Undefeated by all of them, she revels in knowing what we only now know – that she was a woman way ahead of her time. Salome is now considered the first ‘art house’ film and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Nordlinger has done an excellent job of summoning the character of Nazimova. She skillfully captures her enthusiasm for her craft, her sexiness, joie de vivre and powerhouse energy. “Any woman who rises above, has been called a bitch,” Nordlinger states, sashaying with a laugh, not wallowing in self-pity as she shares the ups and downs, the thrill of audience applause and the scathing headlines that would take her down. Portraying Nazimova with boundless energy, snappy humor and a sparkling smile, Nordlinger zings arrows at those who hurt her. There are no sad songs in our heroine’s mind and she suffers no fools. She’s one smart cookie possessing a wily sense of humor and dashing sex appeal. A creative, phenomenally talented woman who expressed herself unflinchingly, supported LBGT artists and no doubt, excelled over men of her time.
“Garden of Alla” is a stunning event that should not be missed.
Running at Theatre West July 7-23, 2023.
For tickets, www.TheatreWest.org, 323-851-7977