‘Prism’ Brings Jack Cardiff (and Marilyn) Back to the Stage

Prism, a play by Terry Johnson (author of Insignificance), first opened in London in 2017, starring the much-loved British actor Robert Lindsay as an elderly Jack Cardiff, looking back on his glory days as a cinematographer, and the many beautiful women he worked with (including Marilyn, in The Prince and the Showgirl.) This autumn, Prism will be touring UK theatres with Lindsay reprising his role, and Tara Fitzgerald (Brassed Off, Game of Thrones) playing the assistant with whom Cardiff shares his memories.

You can read a full synopsis here, and sample reviews from the London production here. If you’re planning on seeing Prism, it’s playing from October-November in Birmingham, Richmond, Edinburgh, Chichester, Guildford, Cambridge and Malvern – more info on dates and venues here.

Thanks to Warren at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn Meets Shakespeare in Dallas

C.C. Weatherly as Marilyn

Marilyn, Pursued By A Bear – a new play by Nicole Neely, blending Marilyn’s life story with Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale – is being staged at the Bath House Cultural Center as part of the 21st Festival of Independent Theatres in Dallas, Martha Heinberg reports for TheaterJones.

“Marilyn Monroe wakes up in a mental institution, where she’s been taken by her third husband. The Hollywood icon is back in the hospital because she’s overdosed again.

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a jealous duke casts out his faithful wife and newborn daughter because he thinks she’s an adulteress and the baby is a bastard. At one point, the duke’s man ordered to carry out the cruel errand, is chased by a bear, dropping the baby as he exits. Daughter lives, man devoured offstage. The playwright sees some reflections of the bard’s late romance in the real-life traumas of Norma Jean Baker, the funny, gorgeous daughter and granddaughter of abused and abandoned women. 

Here, we see Marilyn (slight, pretty CC Weatherly in platinum wig and blue scrubs) haunted by visions of her dead grandmother (loving, touching Sally Soldo) and her mother Gladys (sharp-featured, defensive Stephany Cambra), trying to battle her way out of a drug fog on an empty stage with blue lighting and three white blocks as props. A chorus of four characters in black, representing everything from accusing orderlies to the dark bear of death (svelte Olivia Cinquepalmi in a clingy satin gown), pursue the anguished actress as she struggles to defend herself against false accusations.

The tone of the play shifts from a sense of pity for the embattled heroine shrinking from a menacing animal growl in the distance to the overly melodramatic … The action swirls and the bear growls, but unlike the Shakespearean romance, there is no magical ending in this evocative, sad remembrance of a woman. We are, however, left with a sense that ‘like mother, like daughter,’ might also mean that these poor women are also forgiving and supporting, despite the husbands, doctors and fathers who left them behind.” 

Kathleen Hughes Remembers Marilyn

Perhaps best known for her role in It Came From Outer Space (1953), Kathleen Hughes was married for sixty years to River Of No Return producer Stanley Rubin, who died in 2014 (see here.) She is also a regular guest at the annual memorial services for Marilyn.

Kathleen Hughes with husband Stanley Rubin

In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, Kathleen looks back on her career, and shares memories of Marilyn dating back to the first time she saw her perform in Strictly For Kicks, a revue staged at 20th Century Fox in March 1948 – many months after Marilyn’s first contract with the studio lapsed. (You can hear the Glenn Miller Band’s version of the song Marilyn performed here.) Kathleen’s cousin, Diana Herbert, had briefly appeared with Marilyn in her first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! Both were uncredited.

Kathleen also mentions testing for a role ‘a short time after’, which involved dancing, and losing the part to Marilyn. This could be Ladies of the Chorus, a low-budget 1948 musical filmed at Columbia Pictures in April 1948. The black gown worn by Marilyn in Strictly For Kicks was a costume from the movie.

Marilyn sings ‘I Never Took a Lesson in My Life’ in the Fox revue Strictly For Kicks (1948)

“My cousin Diana Herbert was taking acting lessons when I was already under contract. She was in a show at the studio club. Every studio in those days had a studio club and it consisted of all the people behind the scenes – the mailroom people, the secretaries – everybody but the actors. They would put on a show every year. My cousin was going to be in one of these shows.

The day before the show, she said, ‘They took my song number away from me and they gave it to a girl named Marilyn Monroe who had been under contract at the studio for six months — they had just dropped her! But now they’re giving her the song. I’m still in the show and you still have to come and see me.’ Well, I went to see it and Diana did her number. She was very, very good. But then Marilyn came on. Oh my God, she was fantastic. She did a song called “I Never Took a Lesson in My Life.” She was wearing this slinky black dress. I just couldn’t believe they dropped her.

She was incredible. She was just a star. I just thought if anyone from the studio saw the show, they would realize they made a terrible mistake and sign her back again. A short time later, the casting office called me and they said, ‘Can you dance?’ They got me with this poor, patient man of a dance director. He tried hour after hour after hour to teach me one simple step. Years later I was able to pick it up, but I could not learn this step at the time. At the end of the day, as it was getting dark, he said, ‘Forget it! We’ll get someone else.’ That someone else was Marilyn.”

Fox News

Thanks to Jonathan Montrell

Michelle Williams Goes From Marilyn to Gwen

My Week With Marilyn, the 2011 movie about her time in England, returns to Netflix today. Michelle Williams, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as Marilyn, is currently starring choreographer Gwen Verdon in the HBO series, Fosse/Verdon. Born in Culver City, California in 1925, she married journalist James Henaghan in 1942, but left him after the birth of their son Jimmy. (Henaghan later interviewed Marilyn on several occasions, and wrote a tribute to her for Parade magazine in 1971, which you can read here.)

Verdon later worked as an assistant to choreographer Jack Cole, coaching stars like Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, and Marilyn (seen above with Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and rehearsing for There’s No Business Like Show Business.) In 1953, Verdon starred in the Broadway production of Can-Can, winning her first Tony award. (Marilyn would later be offered the lead in Fox’s big-screen adaptation, but the role was ultimately played by Shirley MacLaine.)

In June 1955, Marilyn saw Gwen performing in her latest hit musical, Damn Yankees, at the 46th Street Theatre. Gwen returned to Hollywood in 1958 to film the movie version. She married choreographer Bob Fosse in 1960, and returned to Broadway in Sweet Charity (1966.) Although she and Fosse separated in 1971, they never divorced and continued working together on Chicago (1975), and the 1979 movie, All That Jazz. She also appeared in films like The Cotton Club (1984) Cocoon (1985) Alice (1990), and Marvin’s Room (1996.)

In 1999, Gwen was the artistic consultant on Fosse, a Broadway musical tribute to her former partner, who had died in 1987. Gwen Verdon passed away in her sleep at the home of their daughter Nicole Fosse in Woodstock, Vermont in October 18, 2000. That night at 8 pm, Broadway dimmed its lights in her honour.

‘Norma Jeane Baker Of Troy’ Reviewed

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, the new short play by Anne Carson, opens at The Shed in Hudson Yards, New York, tonight. However, with decidedly mixed reviews and reported walkouts at a preview over the weekend, the show is off to a rocky start. In his review for Bloomberg, James Tarmy admits it is “not for everyone.” (I’d be interested to hear what a Monroe fan thinks of it …)

“Neither [Ben] Whishaw nor [Renee] Fleming portrays the title character in this equally hypnotic and exasperating production. Or not exactly. When first seen, on a snowy New Year’s Eve in the early 1960s, their characters appear to be a rather anxious businessman (Mr. Whishaw) and the thoroughly professional stenographer (Ms. Fleming) he has recruited to help him work, after hours, on a special project.

That would be the very script of the show we’re watching, which is indeed about Norma Jeane Baker. If you don’t know that Norma Jeane was Monroe’s birth name, I wish you much luck in following this show. Because that’s only the first — and by far the simplest — of the identities attached to Monroe in Ms. Carson’s investigation of the illusion and substance of feminine beauty in a testosterone-fueled world of war.

Helen is Norma Jeane, while her ostensibly cuckolded husband, Menelaus is transformed into Arthur, King of Sparta and New York (referring to Monroe’s third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller).

Norma Jeane is further conflated with another abductee from Greek mythology, Persephone, especially as she was conjured by the 20th-century British poet Stevie Smith. All these variations on the theme of beautiful women held captive by men echo a phrase that is both spoken and sung throughout this production: ‘It’s a disaster to be a girl.’

Now why, you may well ask, is this a tale to be told by a man? Ms. Carson has said that she wrote this monologue with Mr. Whishaw in mind … His ability to cross the gender divide without coyness or caricature turns out to be an invaluable asset in Norma Jeane.

Mr. Whishaw and Ms. Fleming are, against the odds, marvelous. They somehow lend an emotional spontaneity to ritualistic words and gestures, while conjuring an affecting relationship … As might be expected, Ms. Fleming brings a luxuriant, caressing tone to the song fragments … And though it’s a man who narrates — and tries to make sense of — Norma Jeane’s story, it is fittingly a woman’s voice that supplies the aural oxygen in which it unfolds.

You don’t really you need to know your classics or even your Hollywood lore to grasp the thematic gist of Norma Jeane, which ponders the follies of war-making men and their abuses of women. Sometimes Ms. Carson’s conjunctions of figures past and present can seem too both obvious and too obscure. The show’s surprisingly predictable conclusion lacks the haunting resonance it aspires to.” – Ben Brantley, New York Times

“It is a play formed, we learn in the program, through Euripedes’ Helen, which recast the story of ‘legendarily the harlot of Troy and destroyer of two civilizations’ from her point of view, and her sorrow. In the program, #MeToo and that exhaustingly overused phrase ‘fake news’ are both invoked, as well as Carson’s intention to ‘let dark realities materialize dimly’ in particular sections of the play.

Well, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy can claim success on that score at least. The set, far too far away from the audience, feels like a retreating photograph. On it, you had two otherwise-wonderful performers, Whishaw and Fleming, playing within what first looks like the office of a gumshoe.

It’s New Year’s Eve, turning to New Year’s Day, 1963, with fireworks booming outside like bombs. Whishaw’s character has a mood board of sorts, and—it turns out—is not a detective, but a screenwriter working on a film project that is a meditation on both Marilyn Monroe (who died the previous year) and Helen of Troy.

The script drifts, utterly unmoored, between the two, their lives, ambitions, beliefs, and the men, dramas, and in Helen’s case war. Misogyny, ambition, and marriage pulse as themes.

As the play progresses, Whishaw, darting here and there, gradually changes into Monroe—via breast and buttock padding, make up and a wig—until finally putting on a dress that recalls the famous flowing white dress Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch. As Monroe, we hear of the actress’ private pain; there are pills, a champagne bottle that stubbornly refused to pop open (how symbolic that seemed on Saturday night), and then death.” – Tim Teenan, Daily Beast

“Ben Whishaw plays Marilyn/Norma Jeane, or rather he plays a young man in suit and tie (costumes by Sussie Juhlin-Wallen) who dictates a modern update of the Euripides play to a stenographer (Renee Fleming) on New Year’s Eve, 1963. The two of them sit at desks in a very film noir office (set by Alex Eales, the minimal lighting by Anthony Doran) before Whishaw begins to dress up like Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, complete with her signature white halter-top dress and ukulele. Ukulele? Maybe Whishaw’s drag persona borrows it from Sugar in Some Like It Hot, but then, inconsistency is Carson’s trademark.

Whishaw’s young man first mentions Marilyn in her preproduction days on Clash by Night where MGM is helping to wage the battle of Troy — even though RKO released Fritz Lang’s 1952 classic.

Whishaw often dictates that Marilyn ‘enter as Truman Capote’ before imitating that writer’s high-pitched voice. This Marilyn also has a young daughter, Hermione, which is also the name of Helen’s long-lost daughter. Marilyn’s Hermione lives in New York City, and occasionally Pearl Bailey makes an appearance there.

Carson plays slow and loose with the Monroe legend, and in press materials, she connects her subject to the #MeToo movement. #WhatAgain? is more like it.” – Robert Hofler, The Wrap

“Carson’s interest in a multitude of genres and in mixing registers is on full display in Norma Jeane. Many of Whishaw’s lines, like “She’s just a bit of grit caught in the world’s need for transcendence,” are gorgeous and heightened, like poetry; the references tossed around range from Persephone to Pearl Bailey; the set is naturalistic, but the action happening on it is mythic and strange. We’re ostensibly watching two people write a play within a play about Marilyn Monroe, but they’re also investigating the Trojan War, and (in Fleming’s case) delivering operatic sung-monologues about rape and Greek tragedy, and (in Whishaw’s case) getting into full, Seven Year Itch Marilyn drag. It’s about gender and pain and war and mythmaking—all interesting, but wordy and not easy to follow. If my attention wandered off at any point, at least the Griffin’s beautiful raised stage and sleek all-black look gave me plenty to appreciate.” – Amanda Feinman, Bedford + Bowery

“Carson entwines the stories of Norma Jeane—the sweet-faced pinup girl who would one day be recast by Hollywood, then by life, as Marilyn Monroe—and Euripides’s Helen … Here Norma Jeane tells the story of how her husband Arthur, king of Sparta and New York, invaded Troy reportedly to rescue her while she, safely stowed at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, is reduced to ‘box office poison.’

For ninety minutes, Fleming and Wishaw—a luminous duo if ever there was one—did their best to make things interesting, but the scenario they were given was oppressively thin. The always marvelous Wishaw spoke as Fleming typed along, recording him, singing passages to him, with him, less amanuensis than an alighted angel, a tender force. As the Steno paper spilled across the desk and piled up on the floor, Wishaw gradually swapped his suit for a girdle, a bra and some padding, a platinum wig, and a white halter dress, becoming ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (a drag, it must be noted, first worn by Norma Jeane).

This production of Norma Jeane woefully never transcended the appearance of an exercise, never bloomed into a total work, in large part because it backed away from devising compelling and imaginative solutions to the challenges Carson poses: how to revise a famous tale to reveal the false truths that shape and warp women and men; how to pave space for possible collisions between stage and screen; how to tickle and tug at the thin membranes that separate person from persona, performer from icon.”

Jennifer Krasinski, Artforum

Anne Carson On ‘Norma Jeane Baker Of Troy’

“It is 1964. An office manager has hired one of his stenos to come in at night and type out his translation of Euripides’s Helen, but his obsession with the recently dead Marilyn Monroe kidnaps the translation.”

Norma Jeane Baker Of Troy, a dramatic monologue starring British actor Whishaw and soprano Renee Fleming, will have its world premiere at New York’s newest arts venue, The Shed, tomorrow (through to May 19.) The Canadian poet Anne Carson has spoken about her inspirations here. (A 64-page edition of the script is published by Oberon Books; you can read an excerpt on the LRB website.)

“Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is a play formed in the shadow of an ancient Greek play by Euripides called Helen. It has long fascinated me how Euripides was able, in the mid-5th century BC, to take an ancient myth and revolve it 360 degrees so that we are looking at the story and its meaning from the inside out. So he takes the myth of Helen, legendarily the harlot of Troy and destroyer of two civilizations, and says, What if we consider all this from the woman’s point of view? His play gives us a Helen who is not a seductress but a rape victim, not so much concerned with sex or self as with longing for the child she had to abandon when she was snatched away from home. The emotional focus of Helen’s character is sorrow for her lost daughter, Hermione. Euripides weaves this emotion onto the broader canvas of the Trojan War and the sorrow of war in general. The #MeToo movement has given us new ways to think about female icons like Helen or Marilyn Monroe, new ways to revolve the traditional male version of such events 360 degrees and find different, deeper sorrows there. At the same time, in Euripides’s play the Helen who went to Troy is a cloud, a phantasm, a piece of fake news. This raises ancient questions, which are also somehow hotly relevant to our own time, the questions What is knowledge? Who is to be believed? How can we ever say that we know anything?”

‘After The Fall’ in Buffalo

Arthur Miller’s controversial 1964 play, After The Fall, is being staged in the Manny Fried Playhouse through to April 6, as Anthony Chase reports for Buffalo News.

“Many people will have a vague awareness that this is the play in which Miller exorcises his feelings about his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe. For Post-Industrial Productions, a newcomer on the Buffalo theater scene, taking on this notoriously challenging script, albeit in co-production with Subversive Theatre Collective, is a bold gesture.

The central character, a successful lawyer named Quentin, clearly stands in for the playwright.  He enters talking and seldom stops … In time you might begin to wish that he would quit his whining. And then again, the whining of Miller is endlessly intelligent and nuanced. My recommendation is to settle in and indulge in the luxury of such an overabundance of Arthur Miller.

[Darryl] Hart maintains Quentin’s likability, which is tempered by his cluelessness over why his contrasting wives ultimately come to the same negative assessment of him … Bethany Burrows doesn’t waste a single moment of the delicious role of wife Number Two, ‘Maggie.’ This is the unflattering portrait of Marilyn Monroe, who is both self-absorbed and lacking in self-esteem. Among the several plot threads, the Maggie plot is the most engaging and haunting.”

Ben Whishaw Prepares for ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’

In an interview with The Times, Ben Whishaw reveals more about his intriguing role in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which opens at New York’s hottest new arts venue, The Shed, on April 6 through May 19.

“Whishaw, 38, is rehearsing a play called Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, in which he plays a man who likes to dress up as Marilyn Monroe. ‘We just got the costumes,’ he says. ‘I wear a dress that’s a replica of the one she wore in The Seven Year Itch — the white one where the wind comes up. They’ve also given me the bum, hips and breasts. I don’t think they’re as big as Marilyn’s, but they’re proportionate to my body. It’s a strange thing. I’m not playing Marilyn, I’m playing a man who’s infatuated with her. The play is set in the year she died and he’s in mourning for her. Apparently there was a spate of copycat suicides that year.’

To research the role, Whishaw has been reading a book called Fragments. ‘It’s bits of Marilyn’s diary, notes on hotel paper, poetry,’ he says. ‘She writes beautifully. Arthur Miller was here with her when they were doing the film The Prince and the Showgirl, and she opened his diary and read about how disappointed he was with her, how embarrassed he was being around his intellectual friends with her. Apparently this was devastating to Marilyn. All these men say how difficult she was. It makes you want to strangle them. But she really was amazing. She had a lot going on, a lot of sadness on her plate, poor darling. To be a star in that star system and those men.’

If she had been born 50 years later, does he think she would have been part of the #MeToo movement? ‘I’m sure she would have. I’ve been listening to interviews with her. She doesn’t seem afraid of anything.’

Fearless and vulnerable. It’s a contradiction that could possibly describe both of them. ‘Yes,’ he smiles.”