Well, I didn’t at all have to be skeptical about McDonald’s performance. Not only does she appear to get most of Holiday’s eccentric lyrical phrasing right, her often drop of the final syllables, and the intense alternation of alto and soprano vibrato, but she quite stunningly portrays Holiday in the last days of her life in which the great singer was not only alcoholic—which makes for some highly dramatic dips and near falls, particularly when she attempts to take the few steps down into the audience space—but very much still under the influence of heroin, the marks of which she has attempted to cover over by wearing long white half-gloves that perfectly match what critic Marilyn Stasio described as “a while column gown.”
By the time near the end, so drunken that she has descended to the bar to pour herself her own fresh drink, we are hardly surprised when Holiday somewhat offhandedly describes that as a young girl she was raped. The story that proceeds of her performance of the classic “Strange Fruit,” describes her travels with Artie Shaw through the South in which she was forced to eat in the kitchen and could only enter and exit through it. Having to urinate badly, she attempts to find out where “the colored bathrooms” are, but before she can uncover that secret, she is confronted by a highly bigoted waitress who tells her, in no uncertain terms, that there are no colored bathrooms in this establishment, and that Holiday is most definitely not wanted in this restricted world. Tired of the abuse, Holiday squats and pisses all over the legs and feet of her merciless foe.