Although Monroe died over 40 years ago, there’s still considerable controversy surrounding her death, not least because of her liaisons with the Kennedy brothers (John, the President of the United States, and Robert – Bobby – who was the Attorney General). Reputedly, both the Kennedy brothers were Monroe’s lovers, among other notables and stars of the day. And Marilyn was also linked to Frank Sinatra who had connections with the mafia, who in turn, it’s claimed, helped the Kennedy’s in their bid for the White House. So, when Marilyn Monroe died at the age of 36 in somewhat mysterious circumstances, it’s not hard to see why the conspiracy theorists had a field day. In particular, a period of over 5 hours apparently elapsed before the police were informed of Monroe’s death, and one strand of this play attempts to explain that delay. The other main thread that the play examines is Monroe’s relationship with her psychotherapist, Dr Ralph Greenson, from the start of their ‘professional’ relationship to the time just before Marilyn dies. Thus, the action alternates almost hypnotically between scenes in Marilyn’s bedroom and scenes in her psychotherapist’s office.
In the bedroom, we first learn that Marilyn has died. And in subsequent scenes, we see her doctors, press secretary, housekeeper, publicist, and the actor and Kennedy confidante, Peter Lawford, debating and planning their collective stories (if not actual alibis) relating to Marilyn’s death. Key to these heated and fractious deliberations is the need to keep Bobby Kennedy ‘out of the picture’.
Brian Stewart’s script is, frankly, riveting. But in the end, it leaves us with as many questions as we had at the start of the play. However, I think that’s Stewart’s point, because we’ll never know what really happened to Marilyn Monroe on the night she died – even the coroner could only conclude that her death was ‘probable suicide’. But Stewart’s play is still illuminating, because it succinctly fills in the background by presenting a picture of an actress desperate for love and affection, but surrounded by a blood-sucking mob of controlling self-seekers whose main purpose in life largely appeared to be to manipulate and exploit the highly vulnerable actress.
Rory Reynolds deft direction (obviously drawing on his extensive experience and knowledge of mental health issues) aptly complements the script, building by incremental degrees into near farcically, tragi-comic action in the bedroom scene near the end of the play as the ‘plotters’ attempt to ‘get their stories straight’.
Charlotte Marisa Moore gave a highly convincing and fine performance as Marilyn. Her intonation was amazingly authentic, and she was able to demonstrate that almost child-like bewilderment and capitulation in the face of domination that left Monroe almost incapable of functioning in the adult world, and which caused her such pain.
However, Moore is well supported by an able and experienced cast. Stephen Lester gave a confident and forthright performance as Dr Engelberg (Monroe’s physician), and Natalie Gordon as Pat Newcomb (Monroe’s press secretary) successfully blended distraught emotion with a vixen’s tongue. And Morgan Deare as Monroe’s psychoanalyst, Dr Ralph Greenson, gave a meticulous description of the professional ‘shrink’ who, like so many others who surrounded Marilyn, eventually comes to dominate her and control her life rather than helping her to control it for herself. Deare also coped almost effortlessly with the significant gear changes required in his appearances in different consecutive scenes.
The intimate atmosphere of the Jermyn Street Theatre provides a great setting to see this kind of play – it’s almost like having it performed in your own living room and almost as comfortable. Make a dash for the box office, and see it before the run ends. Highly recommended.