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Off-Broadway Review: “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me” at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater (Through Sunday March 1, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me” at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater (Through Sunday March 1, 2020)
Written and Performed by Barra Grant
With Anna Holbrook
Directed by Eve Brandstein
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The audience seemed to enjoy the production now playing at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater entitled “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter” written and performed by Bess Myerson’s daughter Barra Grant. This comes to the New York stage after a successful year long run in Los Angeles. It is basically a solo show except for the voice of Bess Myerson provided live offstage by Anna Holbrook and heard through various phone conversations that take place during the course of the play. It is a very informative but of course is more a one-sided story since Ms. Myerson died in 2014.

The story revolves around the sometimes stormy relationship between Ms. Grant and her mother, the first Jewish Miss America, celebrated panelist on “I’ve Got a Secret,” commissioner of New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, commissioner of Cultural Affairs, and national commissioner of the Anti-Defamation League. Certainly, an admirable and impressive career that paints a picture of a stable, intelligent and judicious woman with a lucrative career. That portrait faded when her involvement with mafia related Andy Capasso subsequently led to her six indictments including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and mail fraud. She was acquitted of all charges. She went on to be instrumental in the founding of The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

The flip side of this all-American success story is the controlling mother as seen through the eyes her only child, a daughter that evidently did not live up to her mother’s expectations. Ms. Grant structures her play around a sleepless night which is effectuated by a series of endless phone calls from her mother who is having trouble sleeping. Each conversation depicts Ms. Myerson as a self-absorbed, sometimes cruel human being that cares about no one except herself. In between phone calls there are blasts from the past that fill in the unpleasant upbringing Ms. Barra withstood as a child and young adult, which corroborates the arrogance that is being witnessed on this restless night.

It is certainly an informative evening and of course who doesn’t love a little gossip about celebrities. It is not so much that Ms. Barra has written a meaty role to showcase her acting ability but the honesty of purely being herself telling her story. If at times she may seem a bit awkward it just accentuates her flaws which may have ignited her mother’s tyrannical episodes. This may not be the best theatrical production, but it is an enjoyable evening that delivers the story of one of America’s most beautiful women but more intriguing, her so called ugly daughter. If you hurry you may be able to grab a ticket.


The creative team for “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me” includes settings by Elisha Shaefer; costumes by Florence Kemper-Bunzel; lighting by Yael Lubetzky; and sound by Tom Jones.

“Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me” runs at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater (10 West 64th Street) through Sunday March 1, 2020. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Barra Grant in “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 26, 2020