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April 7, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Marilyn – Forever Blonde

That Andy Warhol coloured print of Marilyn Monroe, lips open in half-pout half-smile, eyes almost asleep, is probably more recognisable to us than the flags of most African countries. The truth is Monroe was a brand. She was a character constructed by one Norma Jean Monroe, who took great care in creating, maintaining and selling the personality. Norma was a genius of branding. So is it strange that Marilyn, Forever Blonde is told, not by Norma Jean, but by Monroe? It is the character of Monroe who narrates Monroe’s life, her various affairs, her desire to be famous, her disappointments, and her death. The production is delivered using words Marilyn said herself.

All the tragedies of her personal life are delivered using her public persona. Sunny Thompson, star of the one woman show, is playing Monroe the actress as much as she is playing the historical truth of her personality. All of this raises questions about how much we as a viewing public could ever separate the persona of Marilyn from her reality. In this sense it is not a show that goes behind Marilyn and looks for an “authentic” woman. Instead what this show does, very successfully, is deepen our relationship with Marilyn the brand.

It takes place in the intimate setting of Monroe’s bedroom and apartment. Fantastically lit using, in part, the rig of a professional photography studio, the centre of the white set is a double bed, covered in white silk sheets – appropriate given Monroe’s sex symbol status. It sets up the space as alluring, as a “behind the scenes” look, although we’re aware that as part bed, part scene of a photo-shoot, we are nowhere near the real behind. Even the set’s fake bathtub is drawn attention to as a scene ends with Munroe climbing unexpectedly out of the tub fully clothed, glass of champagne in hand, and turning to the audience to announce “well, it’s fake you know?”

The show rests on Thompson’s ability to inhabit her role, and consistently maintain its energy. But the subtle note that gives her performance a necessary depth, is really her deft handling of inconsistency. Thompson drifts from the excited, ambitious character of Monroe’s earliest marriage to the lonely Monroe of three divorces; she shifts between the girl who happily utilises her sexuality to get castings, and the woman who understands that she has made herself an object.

Gradually the clicking of photographer flashes becomes tiresome, as do the poses. The songs slow down. The audience realises this is where Monroe is most exposed, a brand in crisis. For a moment she’s almost a real woman. Then, Predictably, she dies. Some people, including Sunny Thompson will have you believe that the Kennedy’s had her poisoned. This show will surely baste the proverbial turkey of any Monroe fan even half as eager as Thompson. Most importantly, though, it leaves “Marilyn” almost untouched, a little softer, a little tragic, an iconic pioneer of the appalling indulgence and stupidity of Hollywood stardom.

Marilyn – Forever Blonde
Directed by Stephanie Shine
Downstage Theatre
26 March – 12 April

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