Monday, June 25 , 2018, 5:35 am | Overcast 63º


Liam Burke: Finding Greta Garbo’s Ghost

UCSB theater student Ottiliana Rolandsson will bring her work of passion to the stage on Saturday

When Swedish-born UCSB theater student Ottiliana Rolandsson stopped for a moment outside the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2005 and gazed at a banner for the forthcoming Greta Garbo exhibition, little did she know about the kind of existential moment she was about to have. A single thought came to her mind: “My sister is coming to town,” and all she knew was that she had to do something to contribute.

It is now six years later, and many incarnations of the show have passed, including excerpts performed at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and a version at the Lobero Theatre, but now Rolandsson is getting ready to appear again in I Was Greta Garbo.

She speaks very casually about the now full-length show and the relatively quick turns of fate that led her to perfecting this show, which will premiere at 8 p.m. this Saturday at the home of many past Hollywood luminaries — the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria. Sort of an out-of-town tryout before the show heads to a Hollywood theater in February.

After approaching the museum about her interest in the exhibition, Rolandsson began writing a monologue about Garbo, and the museum happily added this to the end of the exhibition’s run. Such was Rolandsson’s passion for performing as Garbo that when she returned to her (and Garbo’s) homeland of Sweden, she met with the screen legend’s niece and great nephew. They shared much information with her, including a variety of mint-condition and never-before-seen photographs of Garbo. They encouraged her to continue her development of the work and offered her personal diaries to use as material.

Determined to make something of the opportunity, Rolandsson detached herself for a couple of weeks and worked in solitude on a family country property. She approached it, as writers often do, like this. She sat down in a chair and imagined the ghost of Garbo in the opposite chair. She asked Garbo, what did she want to say about her life? What parts of her career did she want recovered? Why did she leave the film industry at the height of her fame? And did the ghost of Greta Garbo appear to Rolandsson? Well, only you, the audience, can be the judge of that!

While Garbo stopped acting in the early 1940s, throwing in her whole Hollywood career and moving to New York, there is much to be revealed about this iconic woman who retired from the screen at a time when she was the highest paid woman in America. Resonating with the movie industry today she tells the audience, “First they can’t get enough of my acting, then they can’t get enough of my privacy?”

Who better to direct Rolandsson but the talented Finola Hughes, a star of stage and screen herself. Hughes was attracted to the piece not only for the obviously fascinating subject matter of Garbo, but for the beguiling and poetic writing of Rolandsson.

Choosing the Plaza Playhouse Theater seems a calculated choice given its own Hollywood history. Unbeknown to many, The Alcazar, as it was originally named, was founded by 1930s Hollywood actor Oliver Prickett and has housed countless “Old Hollywood” stars over the near century since it was built, including a young Judy Garland.

After many years as a movie house, only recently has the Plaza Playhouse been restored to a fully operational theater, and it’s now run by Artistic Director Asa Olsson, also originally from Sweden, who brings a whole new world of theater to Santa Barbara County.

Hurry to see Rolandsson as Garbo before she moves down the way to the Working Stage Theater and before Hollywood gets her hands on her.

Tickets to Saturday’s performance are $18. This is a wonderful moving theatrical experience not to be missed.

Noozhawk contributing writer Liam Burke covers dance and has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Australia and The James White Review. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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