Lisa Berman has got some 'splainin' to do. There's a moment during Ward Melville Heritage Organization's production of "The Lucille Ball Story" where the Roslyn actress as Lucy opens a gigantic Christmas package filled with balloons and falls into it. And in typical Lucy fashion, she's trying to think outside the box to free herself before the gift recipient catches her. It's a scene that could have been lifted from an "I Love Lucy" episode, and for the dozens of happy, peppy people in the audience, the bit goes down oh so much more smoothly than a spoonful of Vitameatavegamin.
It's just one moment in the show, which runs through Jan. 12 at Stony Brook Village Center, that captures the spirit of the beloved TV icon, and it's proving to be a big hit with Long Islanders who still love Lucy. "People are definitely coming because it's Lucy," says Berman, who, unlike Ball, is a natural redhead. "We do a walk-around to all of the tables at the high tea that follows the show and talk to people. They know all of her movies, they know all the episodes, and a lot of them react to me as if I was Lucy."
"I used to watch 'I Love Lucy' as a little girl with my Nana, and I used to love seeing her laugh even more. It made me laugh harder," says Lauren Hack, 29, of East Moriches, who's attending with her mom, Janice Gee, and her stepsister Michele Gee, 23. Among her favorite episodes is "Lucy's Italian Movie," featuring the classic grape-stomping scene. All three women said they plan to watch the colorized version, along with the rarely seen "I Love Lucy" Christmas episode, also colorized, airing tonight at 8 on CBS/2.
'She's so genuine'
Dana St. George, 23, of Medford, is using the show as a chance to introduce her boyfriend to America's favorite redhead. "Can you believe it -- he's never seen an episode of 'I Love Lucy'?" she says. "Every Christmas we have 'Lucy' on at my house, especially the one with the chocolate factory. She's hysterical. She's so genuine. If I was working in that factory, that would totally happen to me."
St. George's love of Lucy comes from her dad, playwright Sal St. George, who penned the script for the Stony Brook show, which takes place in 1962 on the set of a fictional variety hour, hosted by singer Gisele MacKenzie.
"She had just starred on Broadway, she had divorced Desi and just married Gary Morton, and she was embarking on 'The Lucy Show,' so there were a lot of changes happening in her life," says Sal St. George, who says he spent about three months researching Lucy's life for his script. Over the course of 90 minutes, Lucy reveals stories of working as a model under the name Diane Belmont, inspired by the famed L.I. racetrack; working with the Three Stooges and Buster Keaton; marrying Arnaz and creating "I Love Lucy" with him. There's also plenty of music from holiday chestnuts to "Bosom Buddies," featured in Lucy's 1974 movie, "Mame," as well as "Cuban Pete" during a salute to Arnaz.
Finding the right actress
Joining in the merriment are local actresses Mary Lauren as MacKenzie and Kim Dufrenoy as her mischievous announcer, Rosie, who channels her inner Ethel Mertz for the Christmas box segment.
Key to the show's success was finding the right actress to play Lucy. Enter Berman, who has been acting on Long Island for 23 years and studied drama at New York University. "I'm not doing an impersonation of Lucy, but capturing her essence," says Berman. "One of the things that impressed me about Lucy was how hard she worked at being who she was. She did a slew of B movies before becoming a TV star. The most telling line to me in the show is when she says, 'I want to tell you, I am not funny. What I am is brave.' "
Dufrenoy cites one more key element to why we still love Lucy. "The one thing about any star is that people have to like you as a human being," she says. "And if you're likable as a person, people can't help but warm to that performer. That's what made Lucy the icon that she is. You like Lucy. You like Desi. You want to have them over for dinner."