“It’s called Marilyn,” IB told me.
“Marilyn Monroe?” I asked.
I agreed, mostly because I didn’t have the energy to come up with alternatives. The weeks and months leading up to the New Orleans Fringe Festival were so emotionally, physically, and mentally draining I could not fathom making plans of my own.
Such was my exhaustion that I was strangely aware of my own skeleton, and my abdomen felt like an unruly and loud parasite. That morning was rough. I spent two hours trying to wake up and only as the sun went down did I feel truly alert, which was to say, at the low tide of disorientation and malaise.
Finding the theatre was an adventure. The play was a site-piece and so was hosted at the private residence of the Furmari family, local theatre patrons. The house sits on the corner of Royal and Mandeville across from the levee. As we biked up, I saw, above the barrier wall, a titanic cruise ship that looked like a passing apartment building decked out for Christmas.
As we locked up our bikes I realized I’d forgotten my ticket. We negotiated with the doorwoman (whom I later discovered was Ms. Bonnie Gabel, the director) to save me a spot while I rushed back to IB’s, got my ticket and sped back. By the time I arrived, the rest of the audience had already been ushered in.
“Here’s my ticket,” I wheezed.
“Do you have your button,” Gabel asked.
“Um, it’s at home,” I said. Specifically, it was in yesterday's shirt pocket. I shuffled. “I just returned from a quest...”
“That’s true,” she admitted. “It was an ordeal. Go ahead. Just make sure to get a button on your way out.”
Out of breath and disoriented, I was led through the gate by a woman in a blonde wig. She offered me her hand and my social powers failed me. I mistook the gesture and did not kiss her hand, as would have been proper, so she pointed me down a claustrophobic path leading down the side of house decorated with candles and collage work of the Icon. Another woman in a blonde wig waited for me at the far end. She curtsied. When I was close enough to take her offered hand I saw that her lips were sewn shut.
And she led me right up to a bar set-up in a tiny patio aglow with candles and a Very Chatty audience of about twelve.
“How much for the drinks?” I asked the skinny bartender.
“Free. But we have a suggested donation of three dollars.”
“I don’t have any cash…”
“I won’t judge you.”
“But now I feel guilty…”
So I walked away without a drink and better off, really. I’d fought for that sobriety. Having all of my mental and physical faculties at neutral was unusual and satisfying.
IB and I waited quietly for the play to start while the other guests socialized. Suddenly Marilyn Monroe, played by Alison Haracznak, stumbled onto the patio, downed a glass of wine and assured us that we’d have agood evening. She darted from one woman to the next, garbbing hands and dismissing them gently until she came to IB.
“You,” she said. “Follow me.”
A moment later we were ushered in and served tea by the Marilyn with her lips sewn shut. The walls were decorated with napkins stating, “What I love about my body is…” The one that caught my attention read, “My scars.”
The Marilyn with her lips sewn shut, played by Sara Schwartz, led us in a toast. She placed the tea cup to her mouth and the water poured down her dress and he fell to her knees crying.
The audience laughed.
“It’s all right, honey,” one woman chuckled as the Marilyn-with-sewn-lips moaned.
Night Light Collective, the performance team, deserved a better audiences. I have so very rarely been so disgusted with my fellow spectators. Throughout the rest of the play, which was sort of like walking naked through a hail storm, the audience just didn’t seem to “get it” or approach the subject matter with the appropriate gravity.
When I wanted to scream at that audience woman for having the sensitivity of a Monopoly board, I knew that the rest of the play was going to be phenomenal.
Marilyn: A Play About Our Bodies was one of my favorite theatrical experiences ever. The magnitude of the craftsmanship, from the set design, to the choreography, to the poetry, was staggering. I felt like I was trapped in a tiny, schizophrenic, alcoholic, emotionally torn universe for an hour. By the end, I felt brutalized and dazed, which is exactly what good theatre should do.
I won’t go into great detail about the play since this is a review, not a story. But I’m a bad reviewer and so I have to apologize for the spoilers. Rest assured, there are plenty more surprises.
So, a few brush strokes.
Marilyn is, obviously, about Marilyn Monroe, the iconic fifties actress. The play’s name states one of the play’s central themes: obsession with body image and the sado-masochism of sexuality in American pop culture. But it was more than that. The pay was preoccupied with passion that kills and a vicious cycle of flesh becoming symbol becoming flesh again.
If there was a plot, I think I missed it. I was too fixated on the visceral assault of sound and acting. This is one drawback to this style of intimate theatre. I’m so overwhelmed by sensory input that I can’t appreciate the language. I feel cheated that I left with a complicated, deep uneasiness but no memory of the poetry except the in the most general terms.
A few years ago, a playwright told me that he divides plays into two simple categories: the ones that work and the ones that don’t. Marilyn worked.
I think that most people, male and female, are at war with their own bodies. Marilyn succeeds in speaking to that feeling. The central actress and writer spends most of the play convulsing about her abdomen, sometimes in pain, sometimes in nausea, sometimes in pleasure. It was a reminder that the great Marilyn Monroe, the Icon, was made of skin and blood, too.
But for this one it was a reminder that we’re all meat, that the body is sacred, and that we all ought to show ourselves mercy.
If you’re in New Orleans, or elsewhere and see NightLight Collective doing a performance, go see the show. And be on your best behavior. They deserve a good audience.