JACKIE: AN AMERICAN LIFE, Cenacle Theatre Company, at the Pilsen Theatre. At one time Jackie Kennedy was the center of the tabloid universe–the tabs couldn’t get enough of her, every week publishing some new privacy-invading story about her latest travails or photographs of our widowed former first lady lounging topless on some yacht.

Cenacle Theatre’s rough, raw production of Gip Hoppe’s stage biography of Jackie reminds me of those old tabloid articles. Loud, rude, rumormongering, at once iconoclastic and worshipful, this awkward, spasmodic, fragmented show is packed with sensational details about Jackie’s philandering father, her parents’ wounding divorce, Jack Kennedy’s eccentric courtship, her stoic toleration of his philandering. As if the facts weren’t garish enough, director P.J. Baio has tarted up this production with every low-budget gimmick you can imagine: campy acting, puppets, awful ventriloquism, and cartoonish cardboard sets. No surprise, the production has major problems with tone and point of view. Have Baio and company come to praise Jackie or bury her? We don’t know. And neither, I suspect, do they.

Which is a shame, because at the center of this production is a fine actress: Hillary Lynn Goldsher perfectly re-creates Jackie’s essence–her debutant grace, quiet winning smile, understated sexual magnetism, and blue-blooded bohemianism. Every time she entered it made me wish she were in some other, better production surrounded by actors as seasoned and totally into their roles as she is. –Jack Helbig