Marilyn Forever Blonde/written by Greg Thompson/directed by Stephanie Shine/El Portal Theatre/closed after five SRO performances August 2-5
An uncanny incarnation! A perfect replica! Such have been the reviews worldwide for Sunny Thompson in her remarkable performance as Marilyn Monroe in Greg Thompson's Marilyn Forever Blonde, which played the El Portal Mainstage last weekend to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Monroe's death. The play has gone cross country, even to London, to great acclaim and awardS. Thompson has been unanimously praised for her razor sharp recreation. Not only does she look, walk, talk and sing - a better singer than MM - like Marilyn, but she somehow manages to inhabit her thoroughly and channel her emotional fragility to the letter.
Greg Thompson's play traces Monroe from orphan to her untimely death on August 5, 1962. As the play opens, a photographer is doing a photo shoot of Marilyn in bed, covered with satin sheets. Unaware that the end of her life looms ever so close - or does she? - she reminisces, wondering what it would be like to start over. As a kid, looking out the window of the orphanage which faced the backlot of RKO Studio, Monroe envisioned stardom. Never having known her father, and abandoned by her mother... and left again by step-parents, it is no wonder that she matured with a mass of insecurities, without love, craving simply "to be wonderful". Many men played into Marilyn's life, among them Joe Skank, Harry Cohn at Colombia and then her first agent, aging Johnny Hyde, who adored her. ("My Heart Belongs to Daddy"). She is quite frank about putting out, and since an early teen marriage to Jim Dougherty, she came to love and delight in sex.
Greg Thompson's technique throughout has MM talking, interspersed with some singing and including occasional voiceovers from the men who got to spend a brief time with her, such as the photographer, and her husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. From MM's perspective what she got from them, studio head Cohn, Jack and Bobby Kennedy and most others was abuse, nothing more, nothing less. She had three miscarriages with Miller and he had avowed to help her change the slant of her career, but in spite of that, her life with him was grim. Her comment, "I hope they got what they wanted". And summing up her career, "Being a star was nothing like dreaming about it". About The Misfits, she called it a cowboy picture, a triumph for Miller and John Huston, stating she was only there for marquee value, to sell the film. In the end, Monroe left this world, unhappy, incomplete.
Jason Phillips' set of MM's boudoir draped with white curtains center stage, elevated on a platform with a simple dressing area stage right and living area stage left and background screen showing a myriad of photos of Sunny Thompson as Monroe, has an unquestionable appeal, as do costumes by Mimi Countryman and Alice Worthy. The red gown and beige dress for "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" are gorgeous. Stephanie Shine has directed beautifully, making consistent use of every inch of the space.
But, when all is said and duly noted...what makes this two hour, well documented, well directed piece ultimately work so well is Sunny Thompson. As Marilyn, she pulls us in with her physicality, her mannerisms, her beauty, her tremendous wit and her irreplaceable childlike joy. Thompson gives us all of this at 150%. She is truly phenomenal.