There is not one specific thing that fascinates Lorri Holt about French renaissance woman Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. It’s not just the phenomenal storytelling ability, a woman who penned the French classic “Gigi,” which turned into an Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe musical film, which won the 1958 Academy Award for best picture. It’s not even the surreal writing skills, one of the most important writers in literary history.
Colette’s influence on Holt is on full display in her one-woman show now playing at the Marsh in Berkeley through Nov. 4th. “Colette Uncensored” is Holt’s tribute to the woman who lived by her own rules regarding feminism and sexuality, among other things.
Co-written with Zack Rogow, Holt spends 75 minutes letting the audience get up close and personal with Colette, a woman she considers “so beautiful and complex.”
“She had an eloquence and an incredible lust for life,” said Holt. “She was eager to know and understand life and never stopped trying to understand. What makes us tick sexually? Why do we fall down all the time?
“I have similar questions, and as life goes on the questions don’t diminish, but grow deeper. What are we doing here? How can we live our lives in the most full, deep way? Those questions keep us vital as human beings.”
The piece is not new for Holt. She first premiered the show back in April of 2016, and has been presenting and fine-tuning it ever since. The show is mostly adapted by Holt and Rogow from the latest collection of Colette’s work entitled, “Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems,” translated by Rogow and Renée Morel. Once Rogow and Holt, along with director David Ford felt the play was ready for an audience, they approached the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where a staged reading took place in February of 2015.
While Holt is clearly passionate about the regality of Colette, who passed away in 1954 at the age of 81, it didn’t stop the actress from being terrified when she embarked on her first solo show. But with her creative team, which also included fellow monologist and Marsh performer Geoff Hoyle, the process of building a play that came out to be 8,500 words was much less daunting.
“I never think ahead, but I just get on the ride and go,” said Holt. “When I open myself up and allow her in, there she is.”
For Holt, that all starts with the hair.
“I have the most amazing wig, and that is the essential part of becoming Colette.”
Because a lot of Colette’s work does not hit the public domain until 2022, Holt is satisfied with the fact that plenty of theatregoers may not know a lot about Colette before coming into the theatre. But she can guarantee that when those same audience members walk out, they’ll be a lot smarter.
“It’s so much fun for so many people,” said Holt. “There is this amazing person who lived and wrote about this amazing life and we know so little about her. This play is kind of a revelation.”
It seems to make good sense that Holt would feel such a strong kinship to Colette. After all, Holt was born in Paris. Well, kind of. Paris, Illinois isn’t Paris France, but it’s still a Paris. And as a young woman who spent much of her youth reading obscure French poets other than Colette, she is thrilled to bring one of France’s greatest and most powerful female voices to a new audience, a woman who made clear observations on two different centuries.
“She never called herself a feminist, but she was instrumental in affecting change in a lot of areas.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Marsh presents “Colette Uncensored”
Written by Zack Rogow and Lorri Holt
Directed by David Ford
Performed by Lorri Holt
Weekends through Nov. 4th
The Marsh Berkeley Arts Center
2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
Tickets range from $20 – $100
For tickets, call (415) 282-3055 or visit themarsh.org