Sherr Embraces Her Inner Bette Davis in a One Woman Play

Jessica Sherr’s one woman play about Bette Davis is at the Triad Theater 158 W. 72nd St., second floor, for four dates: July 16, Sept. 12, Oct. 20 and Dec. 15. The blog “Broadway Baby” raved: ”She is sardonic, sultry, sexy, vicious and vivacious, dominating the stage from word one.”

| 08 Jul 2024 | 05:24

She’s got Bette Davis eyes, and a one-woman show to prove it.

Actress, writer and producer–and Upper West Sider–Jessica Sherr is reprising her role as the legendary two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis in the acclaimed dramedy “Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies” with a limited run at the Triad Theater at 158 W. 72nd St.

The title paraphrases Davis’ famous quote, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Sherr has played volatile, versatile and iconic Hollywood legend on stage in over 400 performances across 25 states and three countries and is currently developing the feature film “Bette”, which she co-wrote with Caitlin Scherer.

In 1932, Bette Davis was voted Star of Tomorrow. By 1942, she was the highest-paid woman in America. She passed away in 1989. Her tombstone reads: “She did it the hard way.”

Straus News sat down with Sherr to talk about why she’s devoted so much time and effort to keeping Davis’ legend alive.

Why Bette Davis?

I think sometimes that Bette picked me. Back in 2008, I was a hard-working actress. I’d been in New York a few years, and people would say you remind me of Bette Davis. I Googled her and after I read her Wikipedia, I thought, “Wow, what a woman, what a force.” I was embarrassed that I never realized what she had done for Hollywood. I picked up Bette’s book, The Lonely Life. I fell in love with this strong woman who was way ahead of her time and chose to portray her in an acting class exercise. I fell in love with her spirit.

How did it evolve into a one-woman show?

JS: It had so much success in the class, performed a dozen Saturdays Off-Off-Off Broadway that I put it in the New York Fringe Festival, and it sold out every seat. Then I took it to the very competitive Edinburgh Festival for 24 performances. That is when I knew this show had legs. Before I went to Scotland I sent my play to The Bette Davis Estate, and her former assistant called me and commented on the passion that was in the script, gave me stories and ideas from Bette’s life as well as a scarf, handkerchief, earrings, and gloves that I wear in the show. I just couldn’t stop [performing the play] because it was so successful.

My director, who brought so much life and energy to the show, is the Drama Desk award-winning Karen Carpenter, and also directed Nora Ephron’s “Love Loss And What I Wore.”

In the show do you tell her life story or a segment?

JS: It’s a well-woven story that starts in 1939. She leaves the Oscars early after the LA Times leaked the winners and she knew Dark Victory was going to lose to Gone With The Wind. “Why stay?” [The actress says in character.]

It goes into how her father left when she was 10, which is the spine of the story. Bette never got over that. There’s her in Hollywood preparing for certain roles, and the journey of fighting a male-dominated Hollywood system. Then, the cracked side: four failed marriages, her daughter didn’t speak to her, and the loss of her mother. Audiences get hooked on the story.

How has portraying such a badass woman affected you?

JS: When I first read “The Lonely Life,” I thought, ‘Bette’s so incredible. How could I ever be someone like that?’ I was intimidated by how she spoke out for herself and believed in herself. I started taking off my own layers of insecurity and found my own confidence, then I leveled up to Bette’s confidence.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

JS: I love when audience members say “I didn’t know anything about Bette Davis. I came to the show and I’m leaving powered to learn more.” Bette would now be about 116 years old. I want more people to share in this icon. They don’t make ‘em like her anymore.

Yes they do. Her name is Jessica Sherr.

Tickets are available via for show dates July 16, September 12, October 20, and December 15.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, most recently “The Last Single Woman In New York City.”