Imagine being married to Marilyn Monroe; then envision living in-and-out of sin with Joe DiMaggio (despite his alleged staunchly Catholic sensibilities). Then pretend the two of them have a pet fly which resides on their fictional fourth wall and imagine it is you—yes YOU!!! This is precisely the scenario into which Write Act’s Joe and Marilyn: A Love Story by Willard Manus, directed by T.J. Castronovo puts us in this emotionally driven production relating to the courtship and short-lived marriage of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
Set primarily in the venturously happy and not-so-very-happy couple’s well-appointed abode, we witness the two of them wend their way through relational vicissitudes centering chiefly around challenging conversations, incidents of affection, and mercurial manipulations (primarily instigated by the former, discernibly frustrated baseball star himself.)
Their conversations center around everything from finance, to family, to well…you know…
Marilyn—I just don’t think about sex like most people. Sex is sex. Who cares if it’s a man or a woman?
Joe—So, you’re a nympho!
(Oy—get with the program–it’s the dawning of the dawning of the age of Aquarius Baby. Free Love and all that jazz–Get it together, Joe Geez!!!)
But no–In all seriousness, as soon as the above concept is broached, it is quite markedly established that Marilyn is the unparalleled free spirit in this relationship and Joe is the voice of stalwart, restrictive reason. Yet if ever the twain met in the middle, they just might hit the perfect mark of moderation.
“I don’t agonize over everything I spend,” counters Marilyn of Joe’s unfalteringly redundant financial rebukes, the confrontational tone set directly at the beginning of the play at her declaration of raking in “$50,000 smackeroos” for her latest picture! Joe will invariably urge her to bid higher, and admonish her against being a patsy…and later on down the road reprove her of acting as the industry’s pawn. (A part of me can’t help but hear the imagined words ‘anti-capitalist’ or ‘Pinko’ slung her direction, in their wake but Joe never waxes quite that strident or McCarthyesque parallel to the zeitgeist of the times.)
Most harrowing is their discussion centering around creating a family of their own, but due to Marilyn’s adventurous-to-tumultuous sexual past, combined with Joe’s fiery temper it is probably just as well that a little Joe or Marilyn Jr. doesn’t come to pass and present them any imminent due dates. Ironi-coincidentally enough their marriage only lasts a total of nine months!
Amidst any and all related tension, most delicious to behold is Marilyn’s beauty regimen at her bedroom boudoir, a patent routine which inadvertently wafts scents-upon-fragrances out into the audience for utmost 3-D real-world appeal, until you feel you just might sneeze…or pass out or something… (But if anyone should suffer an asthma attack or some sort of allergic reaction, one can rest assured that there is a committed doctor on sight; in the theatre at all times! But more on that later…)
Irrespective of all things nasally/respiratorally provocative, the mere sight of Ms. Monroe smoothing lotion on her skin and snaking stockings gracefully up past her calves in the foreground of Joe’s most manly loping presence is just what the doctor ordered—the doctor of a completely differing ilk–to illustrate the inherent and sultry undercurrents of the smoldering co-sensuality ostensibly lurking beneath the surface of their rapport at all times. (And really what is sexier than a woman being a woman and a man being a man even if it is in the most socially stereotypical of senses as she slinks, primps and preens and he hulks into the room, sits spread legged on the bed and watches her to oblivion…?) In short, this play captures that delicious dichotomy most saliently and felicitously…
As for the urban legend involving Norma Jean ambling down a New York sidewalk with a friend, going completely unnoticed, then subsequently whipping off her babushka and asking said friend, “Want to see me DO Marilyn Monroe?” to complete awe and arresting attention of passing strangers, the play delves stunningly deeper into this phenomenon. Briefly addressed is the character of Marilyn Monroe vs. Norma Jean Baker including a swift mention of the concept of “the walk” stolen from that of Jean Harlow credited with further invention in persona to the acclaim of her beloved agent Johnny Hyde. Upon revealing the concept to Joe, he seems somewhat nonplussed, yet none the wiser that he is married to a mere caricature which begs the somewhat distressing philosophical question, “How well do any of us know anyone with whom we are close and how much worse is said concept when you are a public figure?” And how genuine of a person was Marilyn Monroe once embedded in the snares of Hollywood anyway? Moreover, what did Norma Jean really sound like? Marge Simpson, Ruth Buzzi, Bella Abzug?—Wouldn’t THAT be a CORKER! But really, nobody knows—or rather, seems to remember and that may be one of the most dizzying facets to her fractured façade yet!!!
Finally, one of the most striking, haunting, and moving components of the piece falls towards the end and quite some time after Joe and Marilyn’s divorce as Marilyn confides her most superlative, celebrity-fueled fling yet–with none other than the President of the United States! Rather than display any sort of jealousy, Joe is immediately—and in the most harrowingly foreshadowing of senses—a little scared for his ex-wife rendering the ultimate end all the more eerie and heartrending to behold…
The house and production vibe over all is completely sound and solid from top to bottom commencing with the cold cabernet (which is ostensibly not the way it is supposed to be served, but it worked incredibly well on the night in question nonetheless), to speak nothing of the friendly reception at the cozy little brick theatre’s entrance. Moving right along to the sound design of a thousand classics culled from the American songbook, the playlist made for quite an audio-ambient experience. Costume design, the lacy bits in particular, prompted me want to wear them home (well again the lacy satiny bits, not so much the Joe-wear—though it looked as authentic and dapper as anything from the time period in question.) And scenic design by Alonzo Tavares and Jonathan Harrison made apt use of the stage space quite economically. Moreover, the pale couch festooned with an inviting set of passion-red pillows was really the proverbial rug that tied the room together including any rugs had there been any… (But neither Marilyn or Joe would look very uh…correct tripping over any, so probably not!)
The final piece de resistance and the maraschino cherry on the hot fudge sundae of the awesomeness that is life would have to belong to the actors:
And what can I say about Emily Elicia Low as Marilyn except that I always respect women who can play Marilyn Monroe and portray her well! Copping the slinky yet graceful physicality of a classy rather than common alley cat (like maybe a spayed or neutered one?—as opposed to the heated alternative) she is almost soothing and rather aesthetically pleasing to behold. Possessing a voiced characterization that is like silk on satin, her vocal imitation does not sound like a caricature—or well, a caricature of a caricature. Not an easy feat. (Honestly, if I or most any of my girlfriends were to attempt such an emulation for ourselves it would sound like something of a combination of Minnie Mouse and Edith Bunker in the midst of an asthma attack run backwards through a mixer—with a little Archie thrown in for good measure. So I really take my hat off to Ms. Low for her portrayal.)
Joe, played by a very arresting Rico Simonini, is all together charming, commanding, and intimidating. After perusing the program however, you might find something even more distinctive about him: A dedicated actor by night, he is a noted cardiologist by day. Can yuh diggit?!?
Seriously, in light of any possible emergency within the auspices of the auditorium, That ol’ “‘Scuse me is there a doctor in the house?” routine could very well be turned on its head with the relevant rejoinder—“Uhhh, no. But there’s one onstage!”
As long as I have been involved in theatre and as Shakespeare is my witness, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever beheld anything exactly like it; a scenario of which could make for quite the textural play or screenplay in and of itself.
Dr. Rico Simonini: Breaking the fourth wall to mend any and all hearts that require it, one beat (script or heart) at a time…
All in all, Simonini’s performance is first rate; of note in particular: somehow keeping, and rendering, Joe likeable despite certain subtle scheming to outright shitty exploits. Not an easy task to be sure…
Overall, a good solid production on all fronts.
Joe and Marilyn: A Love Story is currently running at the Brickhouse Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street in the NoHo Arts District until May 22nd, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm.
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