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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 30, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Bridgette Kelly, star of "Jackie: An American
Life," as Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

O. Wow!

Bridgette Kelly has what it
takes to inhabit the lead in
'Jackie O: An American Life'

By Burl Burlingame


JACQUELINE "Jackie" Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was one of the most revered and charismatic figures of the late 1900s.

After a wide-ranging casting call for the title character in "Jackie O: An American Story," Diamond Head Theatre settled on actress Bridgette Kelly, who has the prerequisite delicate coloration and big eyes, but has a colleen's fiery hair. Well, a flip wig and a pillbox hat will take care of that.

Kelly was born the year Kennedy was shot -- you do the math -- and was aware of Jackie Kennedy while growing up in the care of an uncle in Micronesia. "I always read every word written about the Kennedys, like everyone else."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Bridgette Kelly as herself.

Currently a student at the University of Hawaii, Kelly is mixing majors in theater, psychology and biographical studies, so she has a scholarly interest in the subject as well.

"I attended the Goodman School of Acting in Chicago, and then naturally went to Los Angeles -- where the door wasn't TOTALLY slammed in my face," noted Kelly, trying to avoid eyeing a plate of steaming beer crackers at Brew Moon. "What people kept telling me was, write your own show!

"Well, doing my own life seemed completely odious. So I've been working on something about Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress. In doing so, I've been following the work of Craig Howes of the Center for Biographical Research, trying for something a little more intellectual in the interpretive process. The meatier stuff, the complete picture.

"It's a research process. For example, trying to find out what it must have been like for Jackie in Miss Porter's School For Girls, I ran across a book she would have read: 'Why Men Like Us.' Oh! That's the sort of thing that feeds us as a character."

The public life of Jackie BKO is "incredibly well documented," points out Kelly, so much so that everyone feels like they know her.

"People keep telling me details. Some are true. Some are myth. Someone will say, 'Did you know that Jackie put ketchup on everything?' True or not, the details accumulate to build up Jackie in our heads. The question is -- why do we care so much?"

Psychologists have speculated on the role of "object families" in human interaction, taking the place of the gods and spirits of ancient mythology and providing lessons simply by being. The Royal Family of England fills that need for the English. Here, it's the Kennedys and the Jacksons.

"It's an interesting creative problem, balancing characterization and caricaturization," said Kelly. "I intend to deliver what people expect, to embrace what people expect. And at bottom line, it's a play, and the idea is to deliver what the playwright intended."

Kelly recognizes that Jackie was a creature of her time, and should not be compared to modern empowered women. "She is certainly not of the Hillary Clinton generation. Jackie was the First Lady, but the country thought of her as the First Housewife.

"When Jack Kennedy gave her something to do, he suggested decorating the White House. She said restoration, not redecoration. And she, by herself, turned the White House into a national cultural center."

Kelly has prepared by reading voraciously and "watching the videotape of Jackie's White House tour a hundred times."

And she watches tapes of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. "OH, my GOD, Bobby was SO adorable" -- her hands waving like fans to cool her ardour -- "OK, I'm biased, but he was smart and attractive on a level you don't see so much any more. John Kennedy too. Wow!"

That old Jack magic.

On stage

Bullet What: "Jackie: An American Life," by Gip Hoppe
Bullet Where:: Diamond Head Theatre
Bullet When: Opens tomorrow, with performances 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through April 16
Bullet Cost: $10 to $40
Bullet Call: 734-0274

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