Karen Finley in The Jackie Look
(© Max Ruby)
Karen Finley in The Jackie Look
(© Max Ruby)
After tackling the iconic persona of Liza Minnelli in her 2003 show Make Love, performance art provocateur Karen Finley turns her attention to another famous celebrity in her latest work, The Jackie Look, now playing on Saturday evenings at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. But while this examination into the life, legend, and legacy of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is often intriguing, it doesn't quite succeed in theatrical terms.

Finley enters the playing area dressed in a dark wig, sunglasses, and outfit that are intended to invoke Jackie Kennedy, but her imitation of the former First Lady is done more by suggestion than mimicry. Towards the beginning of the show, Finley takes the audience on a tour of the website for the museum that now exists at the site of the Texas School Book Depository (where Lee Oswald shot President Kennedy). Her off-the-cuff remarks are amusing, as she notes how one of the items for sale is an "assassination postcard," while her playing of the infamous Zapruder film strikes a more somber note. Throughout the piece, Finley flits back and forth between light and dark moments, as she attempts an irreverent treatment of her subject that nevertheless has serious undertones.

The bulk of the performance is devoted to Jackie giving a lecture on trauma, and how her own image in photographs -- including but not limited to those surrounding the time of her husband's death -- became a "collective embodiment for a public grieving space." It's an intriguing thesis, but unfortunately, the delivery is often quite dry with Finley as Jackie literally reading her notes out loud, sometimes stumbling over her words or losing her place in the manuscript.

Jackie's speech is set in the present-day, and she explains her presence by saying that she became alive again during Barack Obama's Presidential inauguration because of the hope the event inspired in her. This is the weakest aspect of Finley's script, as it comes across as uncomplicated and somewhat naïve, particularly as the playwright/performer doesn't address whether or not Jackie feels that hope has been justified by more recent events that impact the current administration. More interesting is her focus on Michelle Obama, and musings on the controversy about her wearing sleeveless dresses, as well as noting that the new First Lady's purple inauguration dress was a symbolic union of red and blue states on her torso.

Despite a few smart and well-worded observations, the show tends to drag. Finley often seems to meander purposelessly on the tiny stage of the Beechman, and a show-and-tell of several artifacts she's collected -- from old Life magazines to sculptures of sunglasses supposedly made by Jackie-O -- doesn't really lead anywhere.