Presented by Ebb & Flow Theatre
Joan & Olivia: A Hollywood Ghost Story is a high-concept examination of toxic sisterhood. Bound in spectral form to the house where they grew up, Joan Fontaine and Olivia De Havilland continue their iconic feud. The vicious pattern repeats as a contemporary pair of sisters, with their own dreams of fame, move into the house.
Georgia Findlay’s script is a real crackerjack. Cruel barbs are flung with the most decorous language. As the Old Hollywood pair, Findlay (Joan) and Nicole Moller (Olivia) move with an elegance that betrays years of good breeding, but they can’t hide their nastiness in poise and primping. That’s not their intention anyway; in fact, they seek to extend their wicked legacy to a new generation.
Molly (Crystal Casera) and Celeste (Mackenzie Kelly) first arrive as young teenagers. They have their own sibling rivalry, but it’s gentle and playful at first. Revealing themselves to the pair, Joan and Olivia each take a sister under their wing. They feign motherly concern, but their intentions are more sinister.
All four actors deliver nuanced, compelling performances the sizzle and pop. There’s giddy delight to be had in the fierce banter. The incongruity of language and manners between the two pairs of sisters reveals more than a mere generational gap; it juxtaposes the deceptive mystique of Old Hollywood with the modern appeal of crass realness. Even as the animosity flares, you catch brief flashes of vulnerability in their expressive faces.
Director Matt Eger’s staging is a dynamic blend of realism and stylization. The sharp divide between Joan and Olivia is suggested in the contrasting blue and red of their dresses and extends out into the set dressing of their respective bedrooms. It’s obvious, but Joan and Olivia wouldn’t want it any other way.
I was surprised by the cool lack of resolution that ends this ghost story. It delivers a chill warning about the dangers of ego and external manipulation. Though we don’t taste the fruit of their better natures, we do get a whiff. Perhaps there is hope for them all?
In Mid-Atlantic accent: “Good luck, darlings.”