WHAT: “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” written and directed by Jim Fitzmorris and starring Bunny Love, Justin Welborn and Kimberly Kaye
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday (June 30-July 2), 8 p.m.; Sunday (July 3), 6 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
MORE INFO: Click here
To say that Bunny Love is a woman under the influence in Jim Fitzmorris’ “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” which concludes its two-weekend run starting Thursday (July 30) at The Theatre at St. Claude, would be a massive understatement. Like the playwright himself, Bunny Love brings myriad influences to a story whose title is lifted from director John Cassavetes’ arthouse noir classic. (I noted as much in my review of the playI noted as much in my review of the play.) To get a sense of this, and how Bunny Love tapped into her own vast background as a burlesque performer, I asked her to share those influences.
“Dracula” was the first play I had done in a while and my introduction to the New Orleans theater scene after moving back here from New York City in 2014. We performed the last two weekends in October — perfect for Halloween. It was a short, intense rehearsal, as I have now learned, the only kind of (Jim) Fitmorris rehearsal. I was thrilled to be doing a play and even more thrilled to be working with Matthew Mickal, Joel Derby, Kimberly Kaye, Trey Lagan and Jim Fitzmorris. I fell madly in love with everyone involved! I’d been hit by a car on Oct. 8 while riding my bike in Audubon Park and broke my left wrist in three pieces. I could have felt sorry for myself and gotten depressed, but this show, with these people, saved me from that. At the end of our run, Jim had a light-bulb moment and realized Kimberly Kaye and I were the two actresses he’d been seeking for his play “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” a play he’d written in early 2013. He’d always had his college buddy, L.A.-based actor Justin Welborn, in mind to play Irish, but couldn’t find the right fit for the two female characters: Triple Lexxx, the burlesque star about to open her own club, and Bookie, her wise-rackin’ “Fake-O tough guy” girlfriend. When I took Jim’s script home and read it, it was like he’d written it for me! I was a little freaked out. Justin and Kimberly (who was living in New York City, but recently moved here) were able to come to New Orleans in November for a reading. Sparks were flying from that first table work. We were titillated with excitement. We decided we would do the show in June. Justin arrived on the night of the 13th, and we went to work. Long, intense, eight-to-nine-hour rehearsals with people I love and admire is pure joy for me! We opened the show on the 23rd. It all came together with “hard work and hustle,” and a lot of theatrical magic. The show is a blast — three damaged human beings looking for redemption, spitfire dialogue, and a twisting plot that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat. I did some very specific work to prepare for this play. Here are some of my inspirations.
John Cassavetes — Filmmaker, actor and just my type of man, intensely sexy and infinitely cool. Like my character, Triple Lexxx, I “love all Cassavetes.” After our initial table work, I had a Cassavetes move marathon. I spent days watching everything: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” “Shadows,” “Faces,” “Husbands,” “Minnie and Moskowitz, “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Gloria,” and “Big Trouble.” I think I missed one or two. Falling in love again with the man and his movies, his “gritty American realism,” and how it related to “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.” Cassavetes presented difficult, flawed characters in disturbing situations delivering clever dialogue one might hear at a cocktail party gone wrong. It was helpful to steep myself in that world. There is a particular feeling in all of Cassavetes’ work, and that feeling is there in “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.” Irish, Lexxx and Bookie, all with their faults and dark secrets in a frightfully tense situation with crisp dialogue that sometimes erupts into shouting. I never met Cassavetes, but I did have a “next best thing” moment when I met Ben Gazzara at a film festival in New York City and had a mini-makeout session as I was putting him into a cab at the end of the night. Yum!
All the movies mentioned in “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” (in addition to Cassavetes) — “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Town,” “Frankenstein,” “The Godfather,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Chinatown” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I needed to understand the references to these movies, but I also found a love and appreciation for these beautifully constructed films, most of which I would have thought aren’t really my thing, but found myself riveted. Like Irish and Lexxx, I also love movies, and it was just great to be reminded of that. These films are also full of characters, situations and dialogue that related to life and informs “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.”
Barbara Stanwick (specifically in “Baby Face”) — this is a wonderful character study of a woman who knows how to use what her momma and daddy gave her to get what she wants. It’s super racy for 1933! She is always in control of herself and her situation — well, until the tragic end. I tried to take on that strength and control. I even stole a few facial expressions and gestures. She’s a woman on her way to the top. She knows what she wants and she will do whatever it takes to get it. She’s scrappy and comes from the wrong side of the tracks, but has groomed herself to hide all that. Triple Lexxx is also all of those things.
Lauren Bacall (specifically in “The Big Sleep”) — She is know for her cool demeanor and unflappable poise. I think Lexxx made a study of her and wanted to be that cool. I studied her posture and her stillness; she hardly ever moves her shoulders. It’s incredible and so powerful, and her hands, her beautiful hands! Another piece of candy from this movie was the way she and Bogart flirted, the cat and mouse, the wordplay. They are the best. We strive for something like that in our play. Finally, it was the love between Bogart and Bacall. You could feel her love for him. I wanted that for Lexxx: a true love. I want the audience to see that in my eyes.
My own life and various burlesque performers, strippers and sex workers I am friends with or have known — One of the first things you do as an actor is look for the connective tissue between yourself and the character. Luckily, I had so much to draw on, not that it’s the same, but that it’s relatable or easily substituted. Of course, there’s my long career in burlesque, but I had also fantasized about opening a burlesque club here, before I moved back, so I already knew what it looked like. I also used pieces of women I know, their lives, their personalities. So many influences, both good and bad, but I don’t want to incriminate anyone so I’ll just give you a few examples: From my BFF, my wife, Bambi the Mermaid, I used her incredible ability to manifest exactly what she wants in life. From Julie Atlas Muz, I got her Detroit toughness. Julie is a lovely, sweet person, but definitely the lady who can take care of herself. From Dirty Martini, I borrowed her undying passion and pure love for burlesque, performing and entertaining.