Star-Crossed: The Taping of the Shrewd

Writer/performer Kayla Boyle nails this role as the title character in her one-woman show, Call Me Elizabeth, as – who else? – none other than the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. The one-acter takes place in 1961 in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel where the superstar unspools her personal and professional saga through the plot device of revealing details about her tumultuous life and loves to journalist Max Lerner. He is taping her confessions for a planned biography about the actress who’d go on to depict Katharina in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (one of only three movies Taylor ever produced, although she appeared in about 75 silver screen productions).


Of course, the star of classics such as George Stevens’ 1951 A Place in the Sun (who could forget her memorable smooch with Montgomery Clift?; see: and Richard Brooks’ 1958 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opposite Paul Newman (see: has quite an epic tale to tell-all about. Especially considering the fact that, by the time Taylor was 29 (when Boyle’s bio-play was set), she had already been married four times (with at least four more trips down the aisle to come).


Boyle reaches the boiling point in her incarnation of the celebrity, whose recounting of life story is repeatedly interrupted by telephone calls from her hubby du jour (Eddie Fisher, who Taylor is dismissive of), gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, agents, etc. Boyle has not only the talent, but the looks in order to convincingly pull off her depiction of the renowned busty, violet-eyed beauty – although the bard/thespian admits to wearing blue contact lenses when playing the part, for authenticity’s sake.


Taylor drinks champagne and pops painkiller pills throughout the 80-minute or so one woman show, citing her spill off a horse while shooting 1944’s National Velvet (which shot her to stardom at the tender age of 12), as the source of her injury. Recalling her friendships with “Monty” (she also acted with Clift in 1957’s Raintree County), plus Rock Hudson and James Dean (she co-starred with both in 1956’s Giant), she claims they became her “best friends” because they were purportedly more interested in men than in women. The reasoning being that with sex off the table, the much-lusted after Liz could have open, intimate, platonic relationships with them. Be that as it may, in a talkback following the bioplay on opening night, Taylor’s close friendships with males she believed to be gay, Boyle professes, set the stage for her rather heroic role as an early champion of fighting AIDs, lending her stature as an iconic Hollywood sex goddess to this cause, channeling money from her line of perfumes to amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research), which Liz co-founded, while Reagan, her fellow Tinseltowner, turned the other way.

Boyle is to be applauded for her research, as well as her acting – to write her script she actually sought out primary sources who knew Taylor, including her ex-husband Sen. John Warner (was he Liz’s last? It’s hard to keep count!). Erin Kraft, who also helmed a bioplay about crooner Patsy Cline, likewise does a deft job directing this one-woman show, the third in a series of four being presented by Sierra Madre Playhouse’s “Solo Shows Festival 2023.” (The final one-person show, about Princess Diana, opens Feb. 24.)


If I have one quibble about Call Me Elizabeth, it’s that there isn’t enough info given to viewers about Taylor’s offstage interviewer. Max Lerner wrote for the leftwing The Nation and PM before becoming a columnist for the New York Post (now, ironically, owned by the rightwing Rupert Murdoch). What was Taylor doing palling around with this left-leaning author during the Blacklist/McCarthy era? Inquiring minds want to know, but other than Lerner’s interest in Taylor’s mind, as well as her bodacious bod (they supposedly had a fling at some point), little is said about the play’s never-seen other character.


From a movie history point of view, Call Me Elizabeth has the exact perfect ending, expertly setting us up for and conjuring a sequel which, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to someday attend. If Spencer Tracy was Taylor’s Father of the Bride in Vincente Minelli’s 1950 comedy of that name, then by giving birth to this uncanny performance and script, Kayla Boyle is “Mother of the Bride,” and her one-act gem is “Mother’s Little Dividend.” Call Me Elizabeth is for theatergoers who are fans of live stage shows about Hollywood history; celebrities; women-centered productions; juicy gossip; of course, Taylor herself; and, in general, of fine acting. However, please note: The surgeon general has determined that the contents of this play may be detrimental to the health of Debbie Reynolds fans.


Call Me Elizabeth is being performed through Feb. 19 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m., at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024. For more info: (626) 355-4318; .