BWW Reviews: MARILYN... MADNESS & ME - A Curiosity at El Portal's Monroe Forum
Fascination with Marilyn Monroe will never diminish. A pop culture icon, since her death in 1962, her image is everywhere reminding us of her eternal beauty and mystique. There have been a few plays in the last couple of years about sexuality issues in her life, but none that brings forth anything particularly fresh or thrilling. Frank V. Furino's world premiere play Marilyn MADNESS & Me, like the film My Week with Marilyn, puts a lesser known character in the lead and Marilyn is seen through his eyes, eyes filled with more than just lust and obsession...with real love for Norma Jean. Now at the El Portal Monroe Forum, the play, although still in the rough stages, presents an engrossing slant on the human side of Norma Jean, how she affected one average human being, as well as presenting a panorama of historical events of the 60s, woven together by a curiously fictional thread.
As Tim (Adam Myer), an auto mechanic in Santa Monica, opens the play, alone onstage in his auto body shop in 1963, he makes it perfectly clear as he addresses the audience that what we are about to see may be fact or fiction. He claims to have met MM when he served as her limo driver to a party. He carried her tipsy into her home at the end of the evening, and she kissed him on the cheek. They became fast friends and he visited her often, even taking a weekend trip with her to Catalina, where they shared the same room, slept in the same bed, but only held each other fondly without sex. There were other dates and Marilyn's servant Eunice grew very fond of Tim. He, unlike all the other MEN in MM's life, truly cared about her as a person, for Norma Jean, not Marilyn Monroe. Unfortunately, he is arrested on a DUI and does not make Norma Jean's 36th. birthday party, and she dies before any possible reunion. During the course of the first act, he fixes up a car and manages to sell it through a guy named Ozzy in Dallas. But, let's back up a bit. Tim has possession of Norma Jean's red diary, relating her most intimate secrets; Eunice called him the night she died, he came over, and took the diary. Throughout the play, Tim reads from the diary and as he does this, behind a scrim appears MM (Alison Janes) reading a passage she is writing about JFK, or sharing with us her appreciation of the naive and wholesome Tim, whom she truly admires, calling him a 'gift from God'. As it turns out, Ozzy is Lee Harvey Oswald. When he took the car from Tim, he happened to see the diary in Tim's possession, took it and read a passage about Kennedy. He makes some blasphemous comments, and Tim gives him the thousand dollar check, more than his cut from the car deal, just to lose him. At the end of the act, Tim, dumbfounded, hears the story on the radio about JFK being shot, and about Oswald being arrested in Dallas on November 22, 1963, a year after MM's apparent suicide.
Act II takes place 6 years later, after Tim has served in Viet Nam. There are further flashbacks of MM, always behind the scrim, talking about Robert Kennedy. As it turns out Tim, in trying to readjust to life after Nam, goes to the racetrack where he meets a horse walker named Hoss, a Palestinian who turns out to be Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy's assassin.
Such is the structure of the play. Tim is alone in the foreground telling the story with MM always in the background... out of reach, in shadow or memory, ephemeral, almost like an illusion. Theatrically this works quite well, mainly because of the sterling performance of Meyer as Tim. He makes the character a genuine human being, flawed but honest, who deeply cares for the real Marilyn Monroe, or Norma Jean, as he prefers to think of her. He would have treated her better than any other man could have, if only... Janes is delightful as MM, consistently bright and full of joy and mischief. Furino as writer and director Joe Leonardo in staging the piece wisely keep distance between the two characters. As I said in the beginning, or rather Tim does, what you believe is up to you. It may all be in Tim's, or Furino's, mind, and thus the madness of Marilyn, MADNESS & Me. Another noted wise choice is keeping Janes partially hidden, so comparisons will not be made. There are always those folks who will say, "But she looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe!" Lots of praise must go to Tefoni Michael Rizzi for his unique scenic and projection design as well as fine lighting.