“Ava: The Secret Conversations” at The Geffen – reviewed

Extended by Popular Demand Thru May 14!

Brash and brassy, Hollywood movie star Ava Gardner was no delicate flower. The screen legend lived a wild life and was known for her romances and marriages to many high-profile luminaries as much as the roles she played on the silver screen.

Actress Elizabeth McGovern has written a vehicle for herself to bring this colorful and profane dame to life. The resulting one-act play is amusing and nicely-staged, but I don’t feel as if I know much about the central figure of this slight story. The script is mostly based on a biography completed after her death by British journalist Peter Evans, who appears opposite McGovern as performed by Aaron Costa Ganis. In fact, the play proves to be a bit of a showcase for the talented co-star, as we see Costa Ganis bringing various characters to life with his dead-on impersonations, even delivering a fantastic (if brief) rendition of Sinatra belting out a (fragment of a) song.

The resulting dramedy mostly revisits all the gossip that swirled around Gardner’s notorious relationships with Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes, bandleader Artie Shaw and legendary crooner Frank Sinatra. Meanwhile, this tough chick navigates it all with her wry humor.

Moritz von Stuelpnagel as director does a great job staging the show, keeping it lively and engaging. The scenic designs at The Geffen are always superb, and this gorgeously wrought and versatile set conceived and executed by David Meyer is no exception.  Von Stuelpnagel even dazzles us with an astonishing set change that transforms into a red carpet appearance at the conclusion of the play, reminding us of Ava’s glamorous public image following these intimate conversations.

Unfortunately, I never gained the impression that the actress was giving us a three-dimensional rendering of another character; the show is way too much McGovern and not enough Gardner.

PHOTO- Jeff Lorch
From the press release:

“I either write the book or sell the jewels. I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” 

So says legendary Hollywood icon Ava Gardner (Elizabeth McGovern, Once Upon a Time in America, Downton Abbey) to her ghost writer Peter Evans as they begin work on her tell-all biography that will shock Tinseltown. But as Peter attempts to glean the juicy details about her life story, her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, and her turbulent relationship to Howard Hughes, an altogether different and unexpected journey unfolds in this theatrical glimpse into the private life of Hollywood’s original femme fatale.

PHOTO- Jeff Lorch
Ava: The Secret Conversations

Playing now through May 14, 2023

Written by Elizabeth McGovern
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Based on the Book The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans & Ava Gardner
Produced in association with Karl Sydow
Produced with support of The Ava Gardner Trust
Featuring Aaron Costa GanisRyan W. Garcia & Elizabeth McGovern

Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission.

The Geffen Playhouse

Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (Westwood)

Monday No performance
Tuesday – Friday 7:00 p.m.
Saturday 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Sunday 1:00 and 6:00 p.m.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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