When Lorri Holt takes the stage, in the world premiere of “Colette Uncensored,” the solo play she co-wrote with Zack Rogow, it’s immediately clear how effortlessly this consummate actress channels early-20th-century French novelist Colette. (Born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in a village in Burgundy in 1873, she died in 1954.)
Sporting Colette’s trademark permed bob and a smart black suit, and affecting a flawless French accent, Holt simply embodies the rebellious character in all her (ever-so-French) self-confidence, vulnerability and sensual charm.
With equal skill and subtlety, Holt also segues among several important characters in Colette’s life, briefly inhabiting her stern but loving, and adored, mother; her first and much older husband, Willy, who encouraged her to write, locked her in a room for hours a day so she’d do so and published her early work (the “Claudine” series) under his own name (she left him in 1906); her aristocratic second husband (both men were unrepentant philanderers); her Jewish third husband (who escaped occupied Paris and hid in the south of France); and others.
Directed with the utmost simplicity and clarity by David Ford, the play takes the loose form of a lecture to an audience (just after the end of World War II), in which Colette impulsively recalls, re-lives and re-examines key events from her past. (The material is based on the authors’ research and includes excerpts from a new collection of Colette’s writings, “Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Untranslated Gems,” translated by Rogow and Renée Morel.)
And what a past! Introduced, by her first husband, to the joys of multi-partner and lesbian sex as well as extra-marital dalliances, she exults in the freedoms she says her generation enjoyed — the youthful pleasures of the Belle Epoque.
Eventually she wrote under own name (“Gigi,” published in 1944, went to Broadway and Hollywood); toured France as a mime performer; wrote an advice column for Marie Claire; had a child; cheated on lovers of both sexes and was cheated upon; and in fact behaved very badly. She was, at various times, the scandal of Paris.
Compact and involving, “Colette Uncensored” presents the woman in all her complexity, suffering inescapably from sexual jealousy, forever wondering, “Is pleasure the same thing as happiness?”
The ways she circles around that fundamental question, and Holt’s complete commitment to probing the character’s multiple layers, form the heart of the play.
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes May 14
Tickets: $20 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org