A Legend After the Candle Burns Out

Norma Jeane, Enlightened
By Kristin O’Blessin

Joanne De Simone’s new play is an engrossing journey into key relationships that helped mold Norma Jeane into Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn’s absentee father, Bobby and Jack Kennedy and Paula Strasberg are among the most compelling conversations the audience is privy to. We meet Marilyn shortly after she has died and famed actress Eleonra Duse, played by Gloria Jung, is her guide into the next phase of existence.

As Norma Jeane/Marilyn, Holly Elizabeth O’Brien excels at showing us the young, soft side of Norma Jeane. At times we get hints of the woman who was manipulative, smart, driven and not just a victim. Bob Cencioni is heartbreaking as the father who never knew his daughter but gives her hope for a new beginning in the afterlife. In a nuanced performance by Andrew Rothkin as Jack Kennedy, we get the pragmatic, and at times, callous man who may truly care for Marilyn but would never risk his political career by having her as his wife. This is a refreshing change from the image of Kennedy as a prince of Camelot in American politics. In a fearless and lively performance as Bobby Kennedy, Michael Curcio appears as a child who taunts and torments Norma Jeane with the truth about her relationship with his older brother Jack. Paula Strasberg is the lone woman who shows up to confront Marilyn and Martha Ghio is mesmerizing. We get insight into one of the many people who profited from keeping Marilyn in the spotlight at all costs. Paula also presents us with a tormented woman who is a victim of circumstance doing
what she has to in order to survive. Joe Conway appears as Tyrone Power not as the Hollywood idol, but as the closeted man frustrated by the studio system that destroyed both him and Marilyn Monroe. Joe DiMaggio was perhaps the one man who truly did love Marilyn and Danny McDermott’s portrayal of Jumpin’ Joe is charming and adds a sweetness that seemed to so often be missing from Marilyn’s life.

Ms de Simone body of work is vast and diverse, with a book about Cats in New York currently on the shelves, this play, one about Judi Garland, and one about a runaway slave (the later opening at Manhattan Rep in September), and several feature films in the works. Seems to me that one day a play might be written about her.

How the Mighty Fall in CORRECTION

Reviewed by Bob Greene

How many times have we all walked out of a movie or play and asked “what do you think will happen to…[whomever the lead, villain, or put-upon character happens to be].”

Jane Beale and Ronnie Cohen have answered that question for us in CORRECTION. They also gave us a unique character that is the lead, villain, and put-upon character all in one and then gives us her future.

The play opens with one of the actors breaking the fourth wall to – in essence – apologize for budgetary and script issues. While this seemed an odd choice, minutes later the play begins and we enter into sequences of how we stereotypically expect the filthy rich to behave. We meet Dr. Darling and event planner Rothschild in an over-the-top exchange about just how much a wedding can cost when cost is no object. One can then assume the narrator’s humility was brought about as she expected to be speaking to like-moneyed souls.

Prior to the culmination of the first half of the play, the turning point occurs: Thanks to a newspaper “correction,” we learn that Dr. Darling is not. She has lied about her fame, your money, and even her schooling; thus loosing the husband part of that extravagant wedding, her far-too-busy-being-rich-to-care-about-their-kids clients, and finally her freedom. The second half of the play describes how this scandal-maker rises from the pit of fraud that she dug for herself.

While the play could use some editing to sharpen the focus, Jane Beale and Ronnie Cohen has written a clever character study of one woman’s hubris. It’s refreshing on many levels that this villain is a woman. While some might find it objectionable, one has to admit that it reflects on feminine success in business that they now can become such a dubiously-moraled character. Elizabeth Belonzi carries the phony Dr. Darling through a wide range of emotions, holding our interest and giving us the wide-eyed realizations that such a journey demands; William McAndrews playing Sheldon, her wealthy husband – wealthy – complete with expert delivery on lines depicting his disgust at her obvious middle-class demeanor. Rebecca Smith gives Bunny, Sheldon’s friend and confidante, enough earthiness to create chemistry between the characters; while Jasmine Webb was stunning, natural and strong as Dr. Darling’s friend after the fall. Rivka Borek supplied us with some early get-comfortable laughs as the event planner who plans to spend a lot of money. While Lauren Brickman was very funny and quite commanding as the narrator, the play did not truly need one and at times her appearance seemed out of place. it also weakened her characters’ grand entrance later in the play. Narrators only work as outside characters when even the ending is a flashback.

Renee Rodriquez managed to keep the action moving at a brisk pace but would have faired better with less furniture and properties. Many short scenes created scene changes that slowed the action. Also, while her staging gave us some strong imagery, the configuration of the theater made intimate moments hard to view at times. Maybe less setting and more toward the back wall placement could have solved that.

The authors – one can see – follow in Moliere’s footsteps in lampooning the privileged in front of the privileged. CORRECTION – with some literary tweaking – stands to make a strong impact on the new plays arena.

 

Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services.

 

 

A Humorous Dane on Stage at MITF

Reviewed by Bob Greene

No other play in history has been as discussed and dissected as Hamlet. No other play is so easily recognized – and quoted – as Hamlet as well. So, using Hamlet as his weapon of choice against the puppy mill that is Hollywood was a prudent choice of playwright Andrew Rothkin, who hands his thespians and their watchers a clever comedy/drama weaving classical themes into modern mores… with engrossing results.

The plot is simple: a good actor is angry that a bad actor is on Broadway (only because he knew who to screw) but here’s the twist – he plans on doing something about it. We are then taken on a journey showing us that we can all be Hamlet … if we’re not careful.

Eric Percival (who – in hindsight, strolled in with the audience, nice touch) plays Robert. A poor soul who is so tied to his mother that, when his first real relationship dissolves in a harsh and painful manner, he is all but unhinged. Hey… isn’t that just like Hamlet, Gertrude, and Ophelia? Robert decides to attend a production of Hamlet featuring a terrible movie star (played with no small level of rock-star charm by Ben Baur) and change the play in order to prove his point about the duplicity of the world. Hmmmm, you mean like a play within a play where in to catch the conscience … you get it? He is both aided and hindered by a horny Claudius (John Sarno giving us some excellent mugging and tom-foolery without ever loosing the classical actor demeanor), a pompous brown-nosing Polonius (J. Dolan Byrnes providing powerful stage presence and Noël Coward wit), a manipulated Ophelia, (Alexandra Cohen Spiegler, slightly over the top but enjoyable just the same), a street-wise Laertes (David C. Neal giving us his best under-five-on-the-Sopranos humor) a chicken Horatio (convincingly played by Adam Shiri),  and a bevy of guards of all shapes and sexual preferences (Cameron Moir as a musical comedy queen and a brilliant Andrew Lemonier as a stoner). There is even a laborer (an excellent Flannery Spring-Robinson) who provides middle-class commentary – like one might expect from the laborer – or gravedigger – in Hamlet.  Amada Anderson as a crazed fan was very funny but could have been used better in this “chorus” type of role.

Percival’s protagonist was truly well-played, handing us a man in great pain over a life not lived. He found a way of making us laugh amid his great tragedy and turned in some excellent delivery as Hamlet, the Dane, himself. Kelly Zekas was equal parts commanding and uproarious in her honest deadpan delivery as a stage manager who can sooth the savage beast; and Randi Sobol gave us a fine performance interpolating the queen with a woman who truly felt for the melancholy out-of-work-actor.

Special note to costume designer Cat Fisher, who, while the crappiness of her costumes is a running joke, created some excellent items and far more lavish than one grows to expect from a festival setting. Joan Kane directed this commedia with skill, moving the pace and people with great ease. She could have used more of the source material in her staging but it certainly didn’t hurt the piece; it would have only made classical theater geeks (yes, like this reviewer) happier.

 

Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services.