Imagine fashion press agent Edina Monsoon of "Absolutely Fabulous" fame trying to stay relevant and "hip" without the support of her fashion editor cohort, Patsy Stone. This is the plot of "Blow Me," a new play by Jessica Farr about the life of English fashion icon, Isabella Blow.
The play traces her ultimate descent into oblivion, ending with several swigs of weed killer. Along the way this English aristocrat, who spit the silver spoon out of her mouth early on, discovered fashion designer Alexander McQueen, among others.
In fact, she was so convinced of McQueen’s talent that she paid £5,000 for his first full collection while he was still a student. She also was instrumental in brokering a deal with Gucci to acquire his brand.
McQueen brought his entire staff to Gucci but left Blow out in the cold, even though she had worked as an editor for the fashion magazine Tatler, and was supposedly his dearest friend.
Her other great discovery, the haberdasher Philip Treacy, also abandoned Blow toward the end of her life. She admitted that she wore his creations "to keep everyone away from me... I don’t want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love."
Sadly, this tactic worked too well; She became imprisoned by the image she created, and was unable to forge any truly loving relationships. She eventually succeeded in taking her life, after six attempts.
Madcat’s production touches on these betrayals as well as the trauma caused by the death of her two-year-old brother, who drowned in a swimming pool, resulting in her parents’ divorce when she was fourteen years old.
Her father, who subsequently cut her and her two sisters out of his will right before his death and never understood or appreciated what she did for a living, once told her art was a search for beauty in an ugly world.
She also failed at starting a family, having had several miscarriages, and was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Erin Joy Schmidt gives a subtle portrayal in which we feel the slings and arrows of Blow’s misfortunes without losing sight of her zest for life.
Watching her reaction as Blow is yet again fired for spending lavishly on a location shoot is a beautifully vulnerable moment. This is hands down one of her finest roles.
She is joined by Gregg Weiner, who plays her second husband Detmar Blow. Both of the actors nail the aristocratic British accents. Weiner is also very funny as an Italian gondolier Blow beds on a vacation in Venice.
Matthew Glass is effective as Alexander McQueen. He is even more convincing playing Isabella’s no-nonsense father in an amusing hunting scene in which he uses a mannequin’s arm as a rifle.
Noah Levine makes a nice turn as Philip Treacy, and Emilie Paap is workmanlike pulling off various roles, including Isabella’s mother and her sister Selina Blow.
The music by Matt Corey helps to navigate the audience through the scenic changes.
The demands on the lighting designer are numerous, as Melissa Santiago Keeman is charged with lighting the four corners of the space as well and the thrust stage.
Director, Paul Tei, uses the entire tiny space well. He is especially effective moving his actors around the stage. In one scene, he has Schmidt circle around while decorating a Christmas tree. He also utilizes a wide, white runway set on a black floor as a metaphor for Blow’s fleeting pursuit of fame.
The set is minimal: Two white chairs with seats covered in pink patent leather; a white mannequin; and a backdrop of white, gossamer like, shredded fabric that looks like it could have been a Stevie Nick’s concert costume. There are also two pink and white hatboxes which, alas, are never opened.
Blow was known for her chapeaus. She once envisioned a hat made in the shape of a snow globe to be worn at Christmastime. However, costume designer, Karelle Levy, provides no hats for Blow. This may have been a directorial decision, but it deprives the audience from seeing just how influential Blow was as a fashionista, and as a muse for performers like Lady Gaga.
A change of hats may also have helped to punctuate an otherwise run-on sentence of a script. Varying music and changing set pieces aside, the audience often has to decipher where the characters are because sometimes locations are confusing.
The show is timely; Blow’s artistic eye, evidenced in her wardrobe, goes on display in London this fall. She will again be the talk of the fashion world. She would have liked that, as her greatest fear was falling into anonymity. But now that will never happen, as she is her collection, and both have finally found a home.