Heart of Jade actually has a heart of cheese, and, boy, is it ripe. Gip Hoppe is the author of Jackie: An American Life, the comic and biographical hurricane of which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is the eye; the play did an unlikely stint, following productions in Cambridge and Boston, on Broadway. Here Hoppe, who also directs, serves up a cartoon lampoon of a decadent 1980s awash in cocaine, Dynasty, and money, as filtered through the pulp sensibilities of such titans of literature as Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele (with a little Charles Ludlam thrown in). The material is as thin as Heather Locklear and as tawdry as Joan Collins, but it shoots a consistently amusing round of comic bullets at a broad and worthy target. And though the production isn’t the puppet-populated fandango that was Jackie, it’s hilariously enhanced by music, projections, and Japanese shadow puppets, the latter often engaged in frenzied sex with strings attached. (Aren’t there always?)
The play’s Boston premiere is a co-production of Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, of which Hoppe is co-artistic director, and Centastage. No surprise that the heroine is a pretty Pollyanna from Wellfleet, the unlikely named Jade Snow, who’s plucked from the stage of Cape Cod Community College and popped into the maw of a Hollywood addicted to drugs, profits, gossip, grudges, and drama-queenery. Her first Tinseltown assignment is as " a Dorothy for the ’80s " in an " actorized " remake of The Wizard of Oz. (Her discoverer, Clint Roderick, a cocaine-addicted New York department-store heir who’s twiddling away the family fortune producing movies, specializes in plugging contemporary performers into classic films via computer.) Indeed, there’s a no-place-like-home theme to Hoppe’s lurid cautionary tale. And Centastage, for its part, seems to specialize in Oz remakes, having staged John Kuntz’s Emerald City two years ago.
Kuntz is on the scene here as well, playing, among other roles, an aging Hollywood sexpot named Sprinkles Galore. Drunk, embittered, and abandoned, Sprinkles harbors a dark secret, in addition to a wig that looks as if it had been fought over by Liz Taylor and Don King and a closetful of glittery, ruffled, brightly hued, big-shouldered ’80s dresses. (On these Sprinkles has no monopoly.) Also harboring a secret, with regard to Jade’s biological parentage, is her jealous, unsuccessful sister, Amber, whose name no one exactly remembers, with the result that she’s addressed, oftener than not, as " Yellow. " Hoppe throws all this and more into a tacky, melodramatic stew complete with noir-like flashback, smoking guns, random randyness, and, for one impressively long volley, dialogue consisting entirely of movie titles.
Doubtless Hoppe truly was, and is, appalled by the coke-and-greed-driven Reagan era that hurtled heedlessly toward the stock crash of 1987. (There is a brief sequence in the play in which Clint and Jade take a luxury vacation at a resort in Biafra, where they are tremulously tended to by brown-masked Bread and Puppet peasants.) But mostly Heart of Jade is a comic-book goof on bad fiction and the bad life that inspires it, inventively staged and acted with the deliberate lack of subtlety, if not always the precision, of a well-calibrated production of The Mystery of Irma Vep. And even in the precision department, the actors do almost as good a job of sudden, simulated bunraku screwing as the shadow puppets do.
Hoppe has assembled a fine team for his burlesque, which is threaded with the period and period-inspired ditties of sound designer J. Hagenbuckle and enacted on a Pee-wee’s Playhouse of a set — with a yellow brick road of celluloid slicing right through the organ of the title — by Dan Joy. And costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley conjures up fashion don’ts I thought I had repressed, not to mention giving a monosyllabic male movie star, portrayed by actress Jan Davidson in a wig, a wad of chest hair that looks like a cravat.
Among the players, Stacy Fischer, as Jade, is no cool cucumber at the center of a maelstrom à la Jackie. She gets sucked right into the comic storm without losing her essential innocence. Marianna Bassham is slinkily scheming as the spiteful Amber, and Nathaniel McIntyre is haplessly male and manipulable as the department-store exec she turns to her designs. Rick Park actually makes the oleaginous, nose-candy-gobbling Clint sympathetic. And Kuntz might as well pack up house and move to Sunset Boulevard.