Marilyn Monroe: Always a Misfit and Before Some Liked Her Hot

Show Notes by Felix Gonzalez

Martha Ghio and Michael Curcio bookended a refreshing look on Joanne De Simone’s take on what happens when the icon that was Ms. Marilyn Monroe. The play removes a bit of the glamour off the “glamour girl” while giving you insight into some of the influences and people that molded her life and career.

The play reveals nuances and views about not just Marilyn Monroe but the story of Norma Jeane. From the father figure she never had in life but did in death to the prince of Camelot whose power she coveted as much as the man. Even the casual fan will feel like they learned something about the infamous starlet.

Joanne de Simone’s thoroughly poetic dialogue was always beautiful to hear, though there were times when the dialogue about her disbelief at being dead or desire to ignore the truth she kept having to face with each person from her past felt unnecessary. However, that was made up for by the content and interpretations of Bobby Kennedy and Paula Strasberg whose characters were the highlights of the ensemble.















The Play’s The Thing
This is a new feature in OuterStage spotlight the play as an entity other than performance by Bob Greene

Norma Jeane, Enlightened from its title to its American tragedy-style finish gave us the grand old days of playwrighting. Enigmatic locales, familiar characters played unfamiliarly, wit, intellect, depth, even spirituality and philosophy thrown in. It was a refreshing change from the usual one trick pony plays that are churned out nowadays in the hopes someone will film it.

Joanne de Simone gave us a play in the style of the early days of surrealism. We meet an every-woman and join her on a journey through her life in chapters – each chapter being another character from history. What makes this play so alluring is that we meet famous people to the point of being historic but we see them as we normally don’t. Imagine a film about J. Edgar Hoover or John Kennedy in the 70s and one today and you have de Simone’s concept.

Here’s a person we think we know but here’s the truth. Aside from Norma Jeane, this scheme gives a Kennedy in confession, a self-depravating Tyrone Power, a melancholy Paula Strasberg, an uncomfortable Arthur Miller, and a brilliant interpretation of Bobby Kennedy as a child, played with talent beyond his years by Michael Curcio. Most engrossing.

I am told that Manhattan Rep will be presenting another her pieces. I just might go.

CORRECTION: A True Story Worth Telling

REVIEW by Robert Liebowitz:
“He could lie to anyone…except himself”, brags the narrator in the wonderful movie “The Usual Suspects”, and while it’s not exactly landing on the moon or The Second Coming, it’s an accurate depiction of the human psyche. Everyone–everyone–has at some point in their lives lied. Sometimes they’ve brought so much joy to the distributor, that once (or twice or a gazillion times) is not quite enough. The Culture Of Lies has blossomed so much over the last few decades, the pundits, the Lexicon-Makers, have delineated the degrees of lies–1)Error Of Omission; 2)White Lie; 3) Regular ol’ bald face lie.
Jennifer Darling (played for the most part with nuance and passion by Elizabeth Belonzi) has created a fourth category, rarely seen–4)A Whopper. This final choice is rarely seen because it most cases they are life-altering…and yet, instances of them make for compelling art, or in this case, an interesting evening of theater.
Rather than taking her good old fashioned B.A. and going out into the world to make a living, Ms.Darling (a wonderfully ironic name), has jumped into the deep end of the pool, and has claimed all sorts of degrees and accomplishments, going wayyyyy beyond the pale–so much so that her achievements have placed her in the upper bastions of society, complete with affluent Park Avenue office and practice, and–drawing in the biggest fish in the pond–attracting the wealthy Sheldon Cooper (played earnestly by William McAndrews) Cupid fires away and lands, a wedding date is set, and the wheels of wealth, status and privilege are set in motion, all wrapped up in a neat red bow. On this level of wealth, though, the red bow has a name–it’s called the ‘Vows’ section in the Sunday New York Times.
Based on a true story, playwrights Jane Beale and Ronnie Cohen have imagined what happens to Ms. Darling once her fib is exposed…or have they? It is to the writer’s credit that they have chosen a very compelling event with many important implications, and to attempt to make a dramatic statement. Unfortunately, one of the play’s shortcomings is that it is never quite clear where the fact ends, and where the fiction ends. Either choice–a basic dramatization of the known facts, or a completely different imagining of said events–would’ve been sufficient. Those choices, however, were muddled by a strange unsurety that hovered over the stage during the entire performance.
The play begins in a way this humble scribe has never experienced–after the usual words of warning are given to the audience about various phones and the wrappings of a Snickers bar, this ‘technical director’ (Lauren Brickman)–not really sure what to call her–suddenly becomes a character in the play, and then just as suddenly breaks the fourth wall completely by talking about backstage machinations regarding the show’s budget. This was a poor choice, and got the play off on the wrong foot.
It got worse–the first twenty minutes of the play are inhabited by two detestable characters–a peacockish Ms. Darling is going over wedding plans with a Wedding Planner From Hell. Rooting interest is non-existent, always a problem for any artistic endeavor, play or otherwise. (The Narrator is kind of shallow and vapid as well)
Finally, the denouement occurs, and the middle section of the play is compelling theater–the Times has printed a ‘correction’ (hence the title), and Mr Cooper has found out about it, frothing at his kneecaps. The problem here is that this unraveling should’ve taken place near the end of the play–where denouements generally reside. However, there’s another hour of the play. Clearly, the services of a dramaturg were needed.
The play proceeds to travel in several directions at once–towards prison, where Ms. Darling made her subsequent home, and a back story with Mr. Cooper and her ‘companion’ (or whatever she was, Bunny Herman (played with texture and nuance by Rebecca Smith.) This ‘added’ hour wasn’t horrible, by any means; some of it was funny and entertaining. But it clearly was the basis for another play, not the one the writers set out to write–namely, the rise, fall, and redemption of Ms. Darling.
The rest of the cast did fine in all supporting roles; particular praise goes to Jasmine Webb, for her expert portrayal of Helen Sheilds, a fellow inmate at prison who Ms Darling befriends. On the technical end, a few missteps occurred–where oh where was the doctor’s engagement ring? Why is Dr Darling’s diary, which she has been keeping for a while, blank? Why, in a restaurant scene, are the pair poring over a wine list, and then in the next moment, they’re getting up to leave, as if they’ve eaten an entire meal? Elemental gaffes, especially in a small theatre, where everyone sees everything, must must must be addressed in a professional, competent way. Yet, for the most part, the scene changes went off without a hitch, and were actually part of the action, which was a pleasant surprise.

“Correction” is a very good idea for a play, based on an actual event where we can draw much from. The playwrights now must set out to put the blinkers on and write only that one play, with laser beam precision.
Robert Liebowitz is a published and produced playwright. His credits include premieres at The fringe, MITF, and LoveCreek. His play, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, enjoyed an impressive run off-Broadway. 

Rothkin’s Hamlet: A Play Outside a Play, and a Bit of Dog Day

Reviewed by Christopher Sirota

If only my high school English teacher had taken us to see Andrew Rothkin’s Hamlet: Bound & Unbound, now playing as part of the 2012 Midtown International Theatre Festival, I would have gotten excited about the Bard of Avon at a much younger age: imagine Shakespeare mixed with the famous 1975 Al Pacino film Dog Day Afternoon, how fun is that?  Both serious and hilarious from beginning to end, it is a crowd pleaser, and thought provoker, revealing Rothkin, author of the recently produced laser-sharp introspective play Meredith’s Ring, as an artist with the unyielding ability to mix the two with aplomb.  Also revealed again in this version of Hamlet is how ageless the story is even in our modern digitally-compressed-attention-span times…the story, the characters still work, the emotions still ring true…

Now,  the curtain rises and we enter the world of Shakespeare…for some people fantastic, to others yawn-tastic…but wait!  We then enter again, via a modern bridge: this modern play is outside the original Hamlet play, the opposite of the play within a play in the classic.  No spoilers here (my jib’s not cut that way), but suffice it to say we are introduced to the classic characters, and then we hear and see them in modern guise.  The relationships are developed clearly in the modern layer, so there is no need to have a firm grasp of the original, but if you do there is even more to be enjoyed.  Eric Percival kicks out his best “Pacino” in the lead role of Robert that seems, to me at least, to be a homage in some respects to the aforementioned film.  Eric fleshes out the confusion, absurdity, and intense frustration of his situation, and does it with an insane love for the play Hamlet.

Director Joan Kane keeps the pace moving along so there are no lulls at all, and has the other players throw zingers from both sides of the stage like the unexpected final kernels of popcorn suddenly popping…really cracking up the audience for the opening night show this Wednesday night.  The cast handled these zingers like naturals, with great deliveries of these precious morsels.  Of mention, Kelly Zekas, who played opposite the “Pacino” character so you can imagine the powerful onslaught of anger and earnestness she had to withstand, all the while maintaining a calmness and adding humorous tones here and there.  Also outstanding John Sarno, as Claudius, and Randi Sobol as Gertrude, both providing bravado performances in their classic and modern characters. The lighting onstage and set design cradled the cast in a spartan but striking castle, though I was not keen on leaving the house lights up for effect for almost the entire show…please let me leave the light of reality at the door, that’s why I’m here.

Overall, I laughed out loud many times, chuckled inside some more, and then felt pretty bad for the characters in the desperate situation they find themselves in…sorry, I said, no spoilers…but for me that’s entertainment…make me laugh make me cry… hope you can catch the next two performances this weekend, and anything else Rothkin writes in the future.

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Christopher Sirota reviews classical theater and opera for Drama-Queens and other online publications. He appeared in the acclaimed 2010 production of Romeo & Juliet: Brooklyn. He is also a cinematographer currently in development for his first feature film.