Go Figure! The Randy Gardner Story

by Harker Jones

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 26, 2015

Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner and Dorothy Hamill GoFigure
Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner and Dorothy Hamill GoFigure  (Source: Michon Halio)

Figure skating icon Randy Gardner lifts the veil on the most elegant and beloved sport in his one-man, autobiographical show "Go Figure! The Randy Gardner Story." With an affable, easy manner, he recounts both triumph and tragedy, from his upbringing to his decades-long career.

Opening with the fitting song "Through the Eyes of Love" from the '70s figure skating film "Ice Castles" (the writers of which, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, were in the audience), Gardner enters and cuts the music, grousing he's endured the song 147 times. He tells how throughout his career, event organizers would be struck with the brilliant idea of having the song's vocalist, Melissa Manchester, sing the iconic love theme while he skates. This sets the stage for his demeanor throughout, poking fun at himself and his career, while retaining an edge. Despite the sequins and fame, his story is also quite dark, literally starting with his conception.

The Los Angeles native was a product of serial rape and given up for adoption. He didn't find out he was adopted until he was 40, and though he was afraid of what he would find when seeking out his birth mother, he did find her, telling her simply that he was a "performing athlete," despite being world famous at that point. When they finally met, she recognized him and exclaimed that she'd been a fan for 25 years. It's a horror story with a happy ending.

He met his lifelong skating partner, Tai Babilonia (who was also in the audience), when they were children, and as she is one of his life companions, he spends much of the show discussing their skating careers as well as their personal lives. Together they won five U.S. Figure Skating Championships and one World Figure Skating Championship, went to the Olympics, performed in the Ice Capades and endured her addiction issues and his living in the closet.

While she openly dated celebrities like the late actor Chris Penn, "Brady Bunch" kid Chris Knight, comedian David Brenner and '70s pop star Andy Gibb, Gardner was secretly dating British Olympic skater Robin Cousins. Prior to that, his parents made him endure reparative therapy, took him to a brothel and attempted to make him behave more masculinely. Now out to the world, Gardner is moving when he talks about his partner completing him.

Things take another dark turn when Gardner talks of the 1980 Olympics, in which he and Babilonia were favorites to finally unseat the Russians in pairs skating, but had to pull out because of an injury he sustained prior to the Games. He says how he and Babilonia never discussed it, because it was so devastating, yet that, following the disappointment, they became America's Sweethearts.

With an earnest, straightforward demeanor, dressed simply in black and standing on a sparse stage with only a chair, a music stand and a three-level podium like the winners stand on at the Olympics, Gardner is a gifted storyteller. There's a warmth and an understatedness that director and writer Joshua Ravetch uses to great reward. Slideshows of photos and videos are fantastic visual aids, showing both Gardner's childhood as well as his career on ice.

Celebrating 50 years of skating, Gardner has a lot of stories to share (Did you know?: Condoleeza Rice was a competitive skater before she got into politics!), both his own, and with Babilonia. He calls their relationship an American love story, and when she joins him onstage closing out the show, it's evident they're soul mates as much as his partner in life is.

"Go Figure! The Randy Gardner Story" runs through June 14 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. For information or tickets, call 818-508-7101 and press #6, or visit www.nohoace.com.