"Lucy", an emotionally raw bio-play about the life of Lucille Ball, is entertaining, informative, and engaging – but no comedy. The real Lucille Ball was a brilliant, demanding, tormented mega-star, light years away from her most famous character: Lucy Ricardo, the housewife/show business wannabe comedic heroine of "I Love Lucy".
Ball (Andrea Flax) in Writer/Director Lenny Schwartz’s production at The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, complains that her public confuses her with Mrs. Ricardo. But it’s an easy misunderstanding since they share not only a name (Lucille/Lucy) but a husband – orchestra leader Desi Arnaz aka Ricky Ricardo (Gio Castellano). Their romantic passion and shared ambition produce super-successful television shows and two children (Lucie Arnaz and Desi Jr.), but their mutual resentment (she’s a control-freak; he’s a womanizer) and vicious fights drive them apart. Still, they are forever in each other’s hearts.
Other characters include Ethel Mertz/Vivian Vance (Lauren Ustaszewski), whose contract required her to remain twenty pounds overweight and wear frumpy frocks to make Ball (who was forty when she began "I Love Lucy") look more youthful and attractive, and Fred Mertz/William Frawley (Geoff White) an old vaudevillian and snarky alcoholic. There are more show business characters (Aaron Andrade, Christopher Cruz, Melissa Corbett, Sandy Cerel, Josh Fontaine, Dave Almeida, Beatriz Lopez) and Bette Davis (Jamie Lyn Bagley), who was Ball’s acting rival and (in the play) is her fantasy nemesis.
The ensemble acting is great fun – high drama to low comedy -- and the leads carry the show with passion and punch. Flax plays a tough, snappy, emotionally shaky Lucy, and Castellano plays a success-driven, brilliant Desi with a boatload of sexy, Latin charm.
Schwartz’s play moves between action and narration (shared by all the characters), which enables us to learn a lot about Lucy – and how early loss and failure (Ball lost her father at three and was kicked out of acting school) can fuel a lifetime need to prove oneself.