I’m such a sucker for Marilyn Monroe stories. She created a spectacular drama around herself, wherever she went, and whomever she slept with. I remember watching Goodbye Norma Jean as a kid in the 1970’s, and learning for the first time that there were other ways besides merit and hard work to get ahead. Not that she didn’t have the talent. I loved her in The Misfits, and who knows what she would have gone on to do after that fateful day in 1962.
Marilyn – My Secret, co-written by Odalys Nanin (also the producer) and Willard Manus, opts for an intimate take on the ultimate screen goddess in their Macha Theatre production which had its last night on Saturday, September 20. She’s in her bedroom throughout the whole eighty minute play, unfolding her secrets one by one as she pops pills and drinks champagne and vodka. Figures from her life appear on a simple screen backdrop and act as conversation starters for her monologue. It’s a clever device for a piece with so few players, and perhaps also speaks to the ‘larger than life’ role that some of her friends and lovers – Joe, Arthur, Jack, Bobby – occupied in her life.
But only one of her male lovers actually takes human form in this lesbian-centric telling, which instead focuses on three influential women in Marilyn’s life. Her acting coaches Natasha Lytess and Paula Strasberg were both played by my friend and excellent actress Lori Allen Thomas, who steals the show when she’s in Marilyn’s room ravishing her body with a flawless German accent as Ms. Lytess, or donning a frumpy yet avante-garde black dress and trenchcoat with huge black framed glasses as Paula Strasberg. Lori got a lot of well-deserved laughs as Paula Strasberg, shouting at the producers on Marilyn’s latest film set, getting kicked out for being controlling and disruptive.
Thirdly, the famous stripper Lili St. Cyr (played by the lanky Hayley Farrell) is given a lot of credit in this play, which is interesting. Whether it’s true or not that Marilyn got her “moist lips, loose hips” physical affectations from Ms. St Cyr during the time they spent together, the playwrights make a hell of a case for it, and it’s a great excuse for a striptease in the middle of the play.
Odalys and Manus’s Marilyn, played by convincingly by Erin Gavin on this night, was as outrageously and erotically demure as we all like to imagine her. Gavin really delivered on the “jello on springs” (to quote Some Like it Hot) mannerisms, the breathy voice, and the tormented, even abused, personal core. She’s at once consumed by her own sexuality and also quick to dismiss it. This Marilyn could have easily come up with the Hustler tagline, “Relax, it’s just sex.” Indeed, she slept with everyone that entered her bedroom, and hinted at many other sexual encounters including flings with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich.
The lone male figure is a horny but tragically Catholic Bobby Kennedy (played by Sean McCracken) who comes to tell her that JFK can’t see her anymore, then ends up sleeping with her himself. She listens to his secrets about the Bay of Pigs and more, and writes them all down in her diary, which the writers show Bobby stealing as he leaves the room. In reality, the diary never did turn up, and she apparently had threatened to reveal the country’s secrets. Who knows what would have happened that day if she hadn’t kept a diary? That’s not the focus of this play.
This was my first time to the adorable Macha Theatre in West Hollywood. I think I’ll be back – their next production is about Greta Garbo…