Marilyn Monroe would have cooed happily had she seen Louisa Bradshaw’s thoughtful, spot-on portrayal of her in “Siren’s Heart: Norma Jean & Marilyn in Purgatory.”
Staged to commemorate the actress’ 50th death anniversary, the one-woman off-Broadway show, which imagines Monroe living beyond her relatively short “shelf-life,” had already been running for eight months when we saw it last summer at the Actors Temple Theatre on 47th st. in New York.
More than its intimate and potentially salacious content, however, we were drawn to the novel idea of “resurrecting” Tinseltown’s most enduring sex symbol—because every movie/theater buff “thinks” he knows how the iconic screen beauty should look, walk and talk. So, even before an actress could probe deeper into her psyche, it’s almost a requirement to capture her physicality and overt sexuality first!
There wasn’t much to rave about in terms of production values, but Bradshaw’s performance was something to behold, especially because of the degree of difficulty she had to hurdle to make Monroe’s triple-threat persona come alive.
As a theater director, a large chunk of our body of work involves helping actors shape and vivify characters out of lengthy, thematically complex monologues—like the ones in “The Good Body,” “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” “The Male Voice,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer” and “Frozen.” So, we knew that Bradshaw’s undertaking was no walk in the park.
Under Lissa Moira’s astute direction, the actress is alternately moving and hilarious as she recalls Monroe’s ascent to superstardom—from her humble beginnings with her “unstable” mother to the romantic dalliances (mostly with Jewish men) that always ended in heartbreak and despair.
Believing that “there’s no room at the top for two fleshy blondes,” she breaks the slowly vanishing fourth wall as she talks about her sexy, blonde-and-blue-eyed competitors: Simone Signoret, Jayne Mansfield, Eve Arden, Mamie Van Doren, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak—whom she refers to as “my only real competition.”
Long reading list
Bradshaw shuttles between monologues and tunes, flipping from one wig (as Monroe) to another (as Norma Jeane Mortenson). The legendary actress is painfully insecure, Bradshaw discloses: “(My husband) Arthur Miller gave me a long reading list” to educate her—but, he was as embarrassed as he was in love with her!
As a singer, Monroe credits Ella Fitzgerald for her “vocal stylings” and performing pizzazz—which she demonstrates as she goes from one song to the next.
The musical lineup is a fusion of Monroe standards (“My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “When I Fall In Love”) and hum-worthy originals (Walt Stepp’s “If You Could See Me As I Am” and the moving William Butler Yeats-inspired ditty, “The Mask”). In one surprising scene, she even sings the infamous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”!
After the show, we were pleasantly surprised to meet the statuesque actress as she greeted some audience members by the stage door. As if that wasn’t enough, she had a parting gift for us—a CD of the production’s 20-track recording!