Popular 1950s sitcom ‘I Love Lucy’ star Lucille Ball (Sandra Dickinson) is a household name and beloved figure across America. Her number one fan, a young Tannen (Matthew Bunn) is overwhelmed when his idol marries into the family – fast forward a decade or two and Tannen, as devoted at 30 as when he was 11, manages to charm and befriend Lucy. However, as Tannen becomes more familiar with the Hollywood lifestyle, the glitz and glamour slowly fades. Tannen, America and Lucy herself have to face reality and accept the inevitable passage of time.
I Loved Lucy is a dedication to Lucille Ball and often assumes its audience to be as familiar with the comedienne and 1950s Hollywood as the writer. This proves difficult for those who aren’t, as someone born nearly a decade after her death, I felt I arrived at a disadvantage to those already familiar with and attached to Lucy. For me, most of the dated Hollywood gossip was disengaging and almost excluding – a private joke between the characters and a select few of the audience. It seems to reflect Tannen’s interest in Lucy rather than the audience’s. Whereas, when the second act highlights the difficulties in the Tannen/Ball friendship and explores Lucy’s feelings of public rejection, it becomes a lot more interesting.
It is the central theme of love, or rather the loss of love, that is the real enticement of the piece. Despite Tannen’s assurances otherwise, Lucy cannot cope with America’s loss of love for her, or rather, conceive they can love the old woman she has become. Although the script is almost unbearably cheesy at times, in particular Tannen’s wet and sappy passages glorifying Lucy, this adds poignancy to the raw moments of reality. The sickening Hollywood cheese and prattle is stripped away and the truth of celebrity life is revealed.
Dickinson is incredibly endearing and just as loveable as the woman she depicts. Whether it is through her raucous laugh or moving moments of realization, she mesmerizes each audience member from start to finish. Her complete control of the audience’s emotions gives credence to Tannen’s claim that Lucy could make people laugh as easily as she could make them cry. Similarly, Bunn is a very believable gushing gay, skillfully balancing this with the emotional and sincere side of the character that truly adores his companion. We are also offered slight relief from the sometimes grating Tannen when Bunn multi-roles as an Irish taxi driver, hubby Gary Morton and even Liza Minnelli, highlighting his comic versatility.
Despite two captivating performances and stimulating direction, however, the script emulates the feeling that I Loved Lucy is Tannen’s way of reassuring himself that his love for the star was reciprocated.