BWW Reviews: Macha Theatre Presents the Image of Marilyn in a Somewhat Different Light
Marilyn - My Secret/(a play with songs)/written by Willard Manus and Odalys Nanin/directed by Odalys Nanin/Macha Theatre/through April 21
by guest reviewer James Spada
Two months from today Marilyn Monroe fans will celebrate what would have been her eighty-seventh birthday. It's hard to imagine her at such an advanced age, considering her beauty, vivacity, and girlish manner. Her death was indeed tragic, but it has left us with an image of Marilyn with her charms undiluted by advanced age.
Since her death, there have been innumerable books, several movies, and a number of stage plays about her. Her latest stage incarnation is on view in Marilyn-My Secret at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood, which opened March 30.
The play, co-written by its producer/director Odalys Nanin and Willard Manus, is a short (eighty minutes) and mostly enjoyable two acts that take place in Marilyn's Brentwood home after her death in 1962. (We're seeing Marilyn reminisce in heaven, apparently.) The writers have done their research about Monroe, but several times they succumb to the understandable temptation to run with the most sensationalistic assertions about the woman-twenty abortions, a baby at 14, a long and meaningful lesbian relationship with a drama coach, flings with Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and the most celebrated stripper of the late forties, Lili St. Cyr, who teaches Marilyn how to be sexy. None of these rumors has come close to being proved. (The play introduces St. Cyr [played by Katarina Radivojevic] with a complete strip routine, which I found gratuitous and overlong, especially since St. Cyr is a minor cog in the play's machinery.) Even more controversial will be the scene in which Marilyn performs fellatio on Bobby Kennedy.
Those reservations aside, the central question is: Does the actress who plays Marilyn do a convincing job? Here I have more positive things to say. She's Kelly Mullis, a veteran actress and acting workshop director at the Complex Theater. Her program notes say she has been a Marilyn fan since she was nineteen, and her affection for Marilyn shows. In this nearly one-woman show (she's the center of attention for seventy-five of the eighty minutes), she gives us a multi-layered sexy symbol, conveying Marilyn's highs and lows, her sweetness and her guile, with equal sympathy. She sings a number of Marilyn's songs, using her own voice, and it's close enough. Whether acting or singing, she rivets the audience's attention every moment, just as Marilyn did on screen, and that's the definition of a star.
If I have one complaint about the performance it's that when Marilyn is delighted by something Mullis gives a short, high-pitched squeal that reminded me of Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Marilyn never did that, on or off screen.
This is a multi-media show, with the stage backdrop being a screen that frequently shows us clips and photos of the real Marilyn, as well as one Photoshopped image of Marilyn with JFK, something else that will displease some. There are two supporting actors who supply most of the evening's laughs. Monique Melissa Lukens plays both Natasha Lytess, Marilyn's first acting coach, and her last, Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee. Paula is amusingly covered in black, including head scarf and sunglasses, which isn't that far from the way Paula often appeared, being the avatar of serious drama. Jamie German plays Bobby Kennedy and a cowboy Marilyn picks up for a one-night-stand while in disguise. The athletic I-can't-wait jump he does on top of the couch on which she lies brings the evening's biggest laugh.
Some Marilyn fans will have serious qualms about this show, but I would urge those wondering whether or not to see it to attend a performance and decide for themselves.
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(*I cannot add enough praise for Kelly Mullis' performance. She is a delightfully uninhibited actress of great emotional depth. My complaint with the piece is its title. My Secret indicates something of Marilyn's that should reverberate at the core, the very heart of the play. Marilyn's lesbian scenes are both in Act I, happen early on and do not seem to preoccupy her for the duration. She has affairs with men including agent Johnny Hyde, and Jack and Robert Kennedy. So, is, in fact, lesbianism Marilyn's secret? It doesn't seem that important to the overall meaning of the play. What then is the secret? I believe Mr. Manus and Ms. Nanin need to clarify their intent more...or change the title! Also, I did not see Marilyn in after death mode until the end of the play. Beginning needs more focus.