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Theater review: 'Jane Fonda' at Edgemar Center for the Arts

October 20, 2011 |  6:00 pm

“Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion,” now at Edgemar Center for the Arts
In 1988, Jane Fonda met with a group of Connecticut veterans protesting her efforts to film “Stanley & Iris” in Waterbury. No record exists of what was said, but Terry Jastrow has imagined the showdown in his awkward but absorbing “Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion,” now at Edgemar Center for the Arts.

With a pastor (Steve Voldseth) playing referee, Fonda (Anne Archer) confronts seven angry veterans, from wheelchair-bound Don (Don Swayze) to Ivy Leaguer Larry (Jonathan Kells Phillips). Their accusations are interspersed with period footage projected above the stage. Jastrow did extensive research, speaking with Fonda, veterans (although none who attended the meeting consented to interviews), and even her guides for her notorious 1972 trip to Hanoi. The result plays as an uneven mix of compelling historical detail and soapy group therapy, with a curious void at the center: the character of Fonda herself. The elegant Archer is poised to the point of detachment; no one expects an impersonation, yet little about her evokes Fonda’s polarizing vibe.

Jastrow and co-director Michelle Danner don't do his material any favors; the project deserves another pass by a director who can shape the piece into a strong stylistic whole. But whatever you think of Fonda, the 1970s clips cut deep: fresh-faced vets describing atrocities committed by fellow American soldiers; Nixon plotting on tape with Kissinger; and a young, luminous Fonda, smiling uncertainly as she enters, earnest and unaware, the maw of history.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion” Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. 2 p.m. performance Sunday, Oct. 23. No performances Thanksgiving weekend. Ends Dec. 4. $34.50. Contact: (310) 392-7327 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Don Swayze, from left, James Giordano, Anne Archer, and Jonathan Kells Phillips. Credit: Ed Krieger.