nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
November 30, 2005
I once purchased a book called Mondo Marilyn, a collection of short stories, essays, poems, and other writings inspired by Marilyn Monroe. Flipping through the book now, I can see that it focuses on four classic Marilyn themes: her sexuality, her fame, her addiction, and her death. Our fascination with these themes has created a strong, enduring Marilyn mythology. She’s often a symbol of “ideal woman.” Ken Cameron’s play Making Marilyn, which explores Marilyn Monroe as a symbol of motherhood, love, and sex is an interesting and weird addition to the Marilyn conversation.
Making Marilyn’s main character is a very troubled young man named Scout (Patrick Costello) who is growing up in western Canada in a small town near the Rocky Mountains. His mother is called a whore by many people in the town, and his father has left town for good. Marilyn Monroe (Ashlie Atkinson) comes to Banff to shoot the film The River of No Return in 1953 and meets Scout. As they become close, Marilyn ruins Scout for all other women. Paying the preacher’s daughter a nickel to see her boobs will no longer do, as Miss Monroe becomes his “one and only.”
The play takes place in three time periods: 1962, immediately after Monroe’s death; 1953, during the filming; and 1945, when the U.S. drops the atomic bomb and the earth moves. Scout shifts between these periods several times during the play, with transitions emphasized by music and lighting. The latter of these elements, which seems to be designed by the director, Robin A. Paterson, ranges from a shadowy, dim light when Marilyn is at her most mysterious and when Scout’s mom is at her lowest, to a watery, sunshiny light when Marilyn is flirty and wearing a cotton dress, to strange and severe when Scout is traveling through time, exploring different moments in his life. Designer and composer Michael Picton’s three repeating musical themes add to the effect. Sometimes, there is weird organ music like a tape being played and rewound simultaneously; sometimes, there is a clanging, sad piano; and sometimes, the music is all Hollywood—glamorous and orchestrated. At the top of the show, Costello also sings and plays guitar.
Like Marilyn Monroe, Scout’s mother’s body is her business. Since the two parts are played by the same actress, the brave Ashlie Atkinson, the parallels are all intentional. Both women are heartbreakingly lonely ladies who love to drink whiskey and know what their curves are worth in the world of men. Atkinson, though she is no Monroe (who is?), has huge, gorgeous eyes and plenty of curves. Under Paterson’s direction, she makes definite choices with the two characters and makes them distinct. As the play progresses, Marilyn seems more like the deep-voiced, openly emotional Mom than like the flirty girl who giggles when she mounts a bicycle and plays with a little boy’s emotions while pretending she doesn’t know what she’s doing. This is the second play I have seen with Atkinson, and I will gladly see her any time she appears on stage.
As performed by Costello, Scout’s younger and older selves are less distinguishable, a choice that might also be intentional since the show involves a character’s journeys through time. It must be a confusing role for an actor to travel from age to age so rapidly and to stay specific for each part. Costello’s vulnerability and lust are both very believable. He seems both naïve and completely aware of his emotions.
The story’s time travel aspect is interesting, structurally. In 1963 in Hollywood, California, a cop (Robin Mervin) pulls Scout over and wants to search his car to look for stolen items. At the beginning of the show, the scenes between the cop and Scout are long, but they become shorter as the story progresses. Stopping scenes at key points, Cameron adds an interesting suspense to the story line. As the play reveals that Scout is reliving different times in his life over and over, as we do with important memories, one scene between Monroe and Scout is partially repeated and altered. I think Cameron could have even made more use of this device of replaying scenes, adding to Scout’s confusion about time.
Over all, the play is an interesting exploration of a boy’s longing for more of his mother’s love and his obsession with Monroe, which is personal, not the universal “love” we feel for a cultural icon. Though the time traveling is bizarre, the play may be worth seeing to see Atkinson’s Monroe.