BWW Review: ELEGY FOR A LADY at Open Spaces
"Elegy For A Lady" is a tiny fragment of a play lasting no more than forty minutes, but also an insight into the mind of American playwright Arthur Miller. Instead of being performed in a traditional theater, Bob Paisley and Heidi Van inhabit their characters inside a tiny lady's boutique in the Crossroads among, rather than in front of, a tiny audience of about twenty people.
Neither actor is named in the script. They are the owner of the boutique and a middle-aged man with a longing desire to purge his soul of a much younger woman. She is his mistress, yet emotionally unobtainable. The man obviously wants more. The mistress requires a separation. The mistress is ill and soon to undergo a serious operation. The man shops for a gift before she enters treatment.
Somehow, a bond grows between the shop owner and her customer. She becomes his muse and ultimately his lover. Having the audience in the middle makes the action all the more intimate.
The story behind the one act play is what makes this tiny production more fascinating and worth seeing. Arthur Miller was married to the ultimate sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, between 1956 and 1961 until slightly before her death of a drug overdose in April 1962.
Miller was eleven years Monroe's senior, and though a very successful playwright, was a below average-looking, bespectacled man. Surveying Miller's later works, it is suggestive that he never got over his relationship with Monroe that began as an affair (during his first marriage) like the male character in this play. Miller married Monroe in the mid-1950s after her split from baseball icon Joe DiMaggio.
Heidi Van, as the shop owner, wears the iconic blond hairstyle from Monroe's last completed film "The Misfits." Van, in costume, is close to a ringer for Monroe.
Bob Paisley as the stand-in for Arthur Miller is sufficiently tortured by his own infidelities, his love for this almost unobtainable avatar of a woman, and his need to unburden himself. Van listens, advises, then transforms into the woman about whom the Miller-like character obsesses. They make love and abruptly the relationship ends. The playlet ends. The audience wants more, but there is no more.
The Miller-Monroe marriage was in trouble in 1961 while he wrote script for "The Misfits" with Monroe and Clark Gable. It was the last completed film for both of them. Gable died of a massive heart attack shortly after filming. Troubled Monroe used drugs to go to sleep at night and drugs to become alert in the morning. She was hospitalized briefly (as her mother had been earlier) before her final overdose.
Miller moved on. He remarried, but continued to regret his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. In 1964, Miller's "After The Fall" premiered, a thinly veiled account, of his marriage to Monroe. "Elegy For A Lady" was first performed in 1982, twenty years after Marilyn's death, which suggests the depth of the feeling that Miller still harbored for her. Arthur Miller died in 2005.
"Elegy For A Lady" with Bob Paisley and Heidi Van directed by Jeff Church continues at Birdies Panties and Swim Boutique, 116 W. 18th St., on September 23, 24,& 30 and October 1 &7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at https://open-spaces-kc.ticketleap.com/elegy-for-a-lady/dates as part of the Open Spaces event.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Church