If you’re old enough to remember the original cast of late-night TV show Saturday Night Live, you’re likely to nod and laugh through Kansas City writer/actor Helena K. Cosentino’s heartfelt tribute to the comedian. For those too young to remember, Detroit-born Radner came through the Canadian hot-house of comedy, working with the likes of Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and others. She found her way to Second City in Toronto honing her creative and improvisational skills when Canadian Lorne Michaels tapped her as the first cast member for an experimental live sketch comedy show on NBC. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cosentino’s one-woman homage to Radner shares the young actor/comedian’s highs and lows, while collecting a selection of the comedian’s popular characters. The rough-hewn Squirt stage features a haphazard collection of wigs, t-shirts, a beanbag pouf, a chair, and a basket of outfits and shoes, ready for Cosentino to don and doff. A projection of Radner, captured smiling in a black-and-white photograph, fills the drywall at the back of the performance space. Cosentino opens with a comic song-and-dance number — “I Like to Be Unhappy” from one of Radner’s comedy albums. A physical comedian, Radner could also dance — she once did a lovely and ridiculous duet with Steve Martin, recalling Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse performing “Dancing in the Dark.”
Cosentino holds her own with a basic time step, shuffle-ball-changes, and the buffalo across — and back — with a slight crash into a set of lockers. She then breaks character to share her avid admiration for Gilda: “It’s been a long-time dream of mine to pay tribute to Gilda… I wanted to be her when I was growing up.” As a fan myself — I played Radner’s Emily Litella character (whose catchphrase was “Nevermind”) in a high school production of SNL-inspired skits back in the later 1970s — I can attest that those of us who were awkward, nerdy, or just plain teens, Radner’s quirky, goofy, nerdy, childlike, and childish characters were a godsend.
Drawing from online material including interviews and old SNL sketches, Cosentino doesn’t merely riff on Radner; she re-creates those skits, pretty closely verbatim. It’s a loving, lively, and lovely trip down memory lane for those who remember Gilda’s heyday and her creations from Barbara Walters/Babawa Wawa, sniffling nerd Lisa Loopner, Roseanne Roseannadanna (“It’s always something…”), and hard-of-hearing Litella. Radner’s death at age 42 of ovarian cancer was far too soon. Cosentino’s tribute returns Radner for those who remember her and introduces her to new generations.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Radner plays July 21 at 6:00 pm, July 22 at 11:00 am, and July 23 at 6:15 pm at Squirt – 1st Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.
Writer/performer: Helena K. Cosentino
Age appropriateness: Recommended for children 13+ older
SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Preview: Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Radner (preview by Blaise Azarra, July 6, 2023)
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.