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Portrait of a Star; Delightful Donahue; Feinstein’s Mispocha

Few actresses continue to be as fascinating as Vivien Leigh, whether one considers the glory of her achievements from “Gone With the Wind” to “A Streetcar Named Desire” or the dark fable of her real life. The tragedy of Leigh’s mental illness, fight with tuberculosis and doomed marriage to Laurence Olivier are fully recounted in “Vivien Leigh: The Last Press Conference,” at 59 E. 59 Theater (212-279-4200), playing through December 19.

Marcy Lafferty appears as the actress near the end of her life, spilling out her full story, presumably for an assemblage of journalists.

“This all started in my 20s, as a young actress,” said Lafferty, a former wife of William Shatner. “Then there was almost nothing about Vivien, but in my 30s, books started to appear and I made a network of knowledgeable friends in England. I was compelled to make a short film, in which I played her at different ages, and that was the genesis of this play all these years later.”

In her 15 years of research, Lafferty interviewed Leigh’s secretaries, Sunny Lash and Rosemary Gettis; various goddaughters; a close friend of Peter Finch, Leigh’s lover, as well as Olivier’s son (by first wife, Jill Esmond), Tarquin; and Leigh’s daughter (by her first husband, Leigh Holman), Suzanne. “Many of her lines in the play are verbatim, taken from what people told me and, with the rest, I did the best I could with what I knew about situations,” Lafferty said. “I couldn’t find Suzanne for the longest time, and of course wondered what their relationship was like. [Leigh left her husband and child for Olivier.] While I was playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, on 9-11, Suzanne came. I was told that she was agitated and not too happy when she arrived and people were concerned. But suffice it to say, she asked to see me afterwards, and she had tears in her eyes. She said, ‘Thank you. You captured my mother, but most of all you captured her wit,’ and she talked to me at great length about her mother’s always having had that quicksilver wit. It’s just me, but I think the play might have created some rapprochement with her, and she left very sweetly. It was very moving for me. There was so much of Vivien in her eyes and little nose. Tarquin was so wonderful, so forthcoming and he looks so much like his father that I started to cry on opening night when I saw him. They’re all in their 60s now and he is a producer.”

In Los Angeles, many film acquaintances of Leigh’s attended the show, as well as actresses, “like Rene Russo, who came back again. The difference between audiences is that, in London, they all know her story and want to hear it, even though they know every line. Here, the audience listens so hard. They don’t know as much, and are intent on learning. I get very nervous because I never want to be a caricature or a technical exercise. My ultimate plan is for this play to continue throughout the world, but not just with me, with other actresses, so they can have the experience of knowing and playing this special woman.”

For more information on Lafferty’s production, visit vivien.com.

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