The Marsh’s production of “Colette Uncensored,” directed by David Ford, tells an insightful tale of a young woman’s venture for artistic awareness in the midst of political and social turmoil in the 19th century. Colette (Lorri Holt), a French writer who led a scandalous life while producing famed novels such as “Gigi” and “Cheri,” challenges gender dynamics in this passionate one-woman show. While focusing on an important theme — female empowerment — the hour and fifteen minute production also reminds us that there is often more to a writer than the work he or she publishes.
Interestingly enough, Colette took on many roles throughout her lifetime — an actress, dancer, beauty shop owner and even a columnist. The “Claudine” novels, considered by many as literary masterpieces, shed light on the concepts of self-confidence and sexual liberation. Colette’s protests against the upholding of traditional gender roles paved the way for a newer, more controversial way of thinking — one that repeatedly returns to a central question: “Is pleasure the same thing as happiness?”
While some remarks left the audience feeling warm-hearted, others succeeded in sending uncontrollable laughter throughout the theater. Colette’s witty comments, perfectly articulated expressions and extremely focused stares led to a production nothing short of spectacular. With a scarf wrapped fashionably around her neck and a head of auburn curls, Colette builds a character of her own — one that could be taken straight out of a romance novel.
Holt’s natural performance is decidedly fulfilling and much needed. While urging women to break free from societal norms to pursue their ambitions, her role as a lover and advocate for cultural change evokes a desire for discovering the marvels of the world. And in telling the story of her affair with a Jewish jeweler, Maurice, and how their relationship unraveled when the Nazis took over Paris, Colette demonstrates how her writing career surpassed her personal reputation.
Just like Colette’s bold character, Holt has also made a daring move in her professional career — to write and star in her own plays. After nearly three decades of experience in acting, she co-wrote “Colette Uncensored” with Zack Rogow, later transforming the piece into a play alongside the director. After taking us through Colette’s childhood, the difficult tasks she faced as a writer and the drama consuming her first marriage and other love affairs, Holt fascinates the audience with her charisma and courage. The plot sequence thus forces viewers to examine their own lives and what makes them truly happy.
As the play suggests, not everyone has the courage to follow their dreams, despite what others may think. Whether it is pitching ideas or developing vibrant story lines, Colette is constantly striving to master the craft of writing by publishing novel after novel. At the end of the day, finding the time do what one loves is most important — and Colette’s drive encourages individuals to pursue their passions.
After making its San Francisco run and now premiering in Berkeley, “Colette Uncensored” is a production that masters heartfelt humor through Colette’s flawless performance. In a world where many are hindered by the mundane obligations of everyday life, the play urges individuals to open their hearts and minds to the art of living and taking chances. Colette’s vulnerability and rebellious charm lends itself to a powerful message: that love — and other ineffable, heart-rending gestures — ultimately beget true contentment.
“Colette Uncensored” is playing at the Marsh in Berkeley through August 20.