Karen Finley's solo performance of The Jackie Look is a narrative told by a resurrected Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The show focuses on the trauma endured by the First Lady and how the pain was translated to the public through news, photography, and fashion. Told to the audience in a lecture format (complete with slide shows) The Jackie Look is a series of comments on society and our intense fascination with celebrity, tragedy, and the world of media.
Jackie Finley is a woman known for pushing the limits with her performance art. She is the recipient of two Obies, two Bessies, and multiple grants from the NEA and NYSCA. She has toured internationally with pieces including Make Love, George & Martha, The American Chestnut, A Certain Level of Denial and The Return of The Chocolate Smeared Woman. In 1990, Finley became an unwilling symbol for the NEA when she, along with Tim Miller, Holly Hughes & John Fleck, sued the NEA for withdrawing grants on the grounds of indecency.
With a history such as this it is no surprise that Finley's turn as "Jackie O" makes audience members squirm in their seats. She begins her ‘lecture' with a computer projection, searching the website of the The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a museum housed on the spot where John F. Kennedy was killed. In a sweet breathy voice Finley's "Jackie" takes us through the horrifyingly desensitized site which features videos of JFK's assassination, postcards of the street where the fatal shot took place, and Christmas Ornaments depicting the grassy knoll. This introductory portion of the lecture plays a key role in setting the tone for the rest of the show; the horror of the event and the flippancy with which it is tossed about on The Sixth Floor Museum's website is so ridiculous and terrible that it becomes comical.
The rest of the show carries on in a sort of poetry slam format, with our star reading disjointed and repeated sentences from pages placed on a podium. As "Jackie" Finley fluctuates between hysteria and anger, lamenting the loss of her husband and the continuous tragedies of the Kennedys while also spitting in the face of those who scrutinized as she mourned. Finley's anger is apparent; her eyes well behind her glasses as she pleads and yells and whispers.
Much of her anger and blame is focused on those in front of her, as we all play a main part of the celebrity and media driven society that she is condemning. It is during these tense and emotional moments that the audience is at a loss for how to respond. Those who were surprised by the serious nature of the show (it is dinner theater after all) break into timid laughter, only to be faced with uncomfortable silence from those around them (and perhaps some anger from our host who at one point scolded a giggling woman by saying "this is not funny").
A few jokes would have been a nice break from the constant bombardment of pain and shame that Finley throws our way. The actress does not fill any delayed moments with casual banter or humor and she offers us no relief from the bitter and sarcastic words that keep pouring from her mouth. However this too is all part of Finley's overall statements about our society and the position Jackie O played as a vessel of trauma. Instead of focusing on her deeds, we admire her as a model of fashion and poise. Finley goes on to identify the scrutiny faced by Michelle Obama, leaving us with a modern situation that could easily escalate into a similar fixation.
There are a few major glitches in The Jackie Look. One is that the show hits lags when relying on the projections. Computers must be restarted, windows opened, and icons dragged- relying on the Internet is never a good idea. The slide show is effective but short and the looping loses its meaning after some time. Finley lets these awkward moments lag, so we lose whatever focus we may have had. Some of the dialogue borders on poetry, sounding a bit rehearsed and cliche, but still evokes genuine curiosity and emotion from the audience.
Finley's message resonates loud and clear. She is able to embody all of the ugliness and passion and emotion that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis kept from her public persona. Finley is bigger, sloppier, louder, and visibly distressed. She is the personification of pure emotion- a character, not a woman. Though The Jackie Look is an effective piece of performance art, as far as dinner theatre goes, it is a Heavy Dish to swallow.