By Victoria Looseleaf
Can we talk? With a face that’s been stretched, plumped and rearranged to the point of making a Picasso cubist portrait look like a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover, 74-year old Joan Rivers is at least still able to physically move her mouth. And what a gleefully wicked, obscenity-spewing mouth it is! Starring in the autobiographical, Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse—a bastion of rich Westsiders also on cozy terms with big-time plastic surgeons—the septuagenarian should redub the two-hour semi-snooze fest, Joan Rivers: A Face-Lift in Progress.
Only succeeding when riffing alone onstage like the needy, obsessive comic she was born to be (nee Joan Molinsky of Larchmont, NY, nice Jewish daughter of a doctor and homemaker), the mouth-off diva makes the fatal mistake of adding three dreadfully dull actors in service to a contrived “story,” directed (if one can actually direct a legend), by Bart DeLorenzo. Written by Rivers, Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell, the so-called action takes place in a ratty dressing room before the comic is about to do her Red Carpet celeb-schmoozathon with daughter Melissa (mercifully, only seen on video).
Adam Kulbersh as Joan Rivers’ assistant Kenny in A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress.
Already wearing more pancake than Aunt Jemima, Rivers is being made-up for the show by a faux Russian hottie/Christina Aguilera wannabe (Emily Kosloski). The stand-up’s patently gay, obnoxious assistant (Adam Kulbersh) gives homotown West Hollywood a bad name. And Rivers’ bitter recollections about her banishment from Johnny Carson’s late night kingdom and her husband’s suicide over her canceled talk show just don’t cut it.
For one thing, Rivers was having lipo the night hubbie Edgar Rosenberg died and for another—would someone really be so sorry a figure as to kill himself over that or was it over his wife’s frequent forays under the cosmetic cleaver? These tales come off, instead, as self-indulgent, begrudging pity-party prattle.
With so much Tinseltown dirt to cull from you’d think the nip/tuck goddess would get more down and dirty. Instead there are AARP sex jokes galore (sounds almost oxymoronic), which, admittedly are kinda funny…if you’re over 40. There are also obtuse vignettes about Mae West and Joan Crawford. But we just don’t care. She’s rich, she’s famous, she’s a happy bubbie (that’s Yiddish for grandma), so why is Joan Rivers so desperate to be on stage now, which also begs the questions: Where are Viagra and Sarah Silverman when you really need them?