Hardworking Artists Can’t Overcome Predictable Script About Marilyn Monroe

May be a black-and-white image of 2 people

Leah Sessa as Marilyn recalling sex with many luminaries except the one in the portrait.

By Bill Hirschman

Ask any acclaimed actress or director about “that show” in their career: Sometimes a night at the theater doesn’t work as well as they hoped because of the concept or the script.

There’s nothing especially wrong with Boca Stage’s The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe, certainly not with the admirably tireless, skillful efforts of Leah Sessa or Keith Garsson who have many triumphs on the resume.

But in the end, playwright Elton Townend Jones gives us nothing at all new – least of all fresh insight — in a predictable rehash of the legend or the truth behind the legend. The idea was to have the star on the verge of dying from a drug overdose tell us in the audience (apparently stand-ins for the visiting Grim Reaper, seriously) recounting the well-worn elements of her tragic life from her point of view.

So as she sprawls across her bed with squeaky springs, she reviews the well-documented elements from a childhood sexual assault to a parade of failed marriages to underscoring the manufactured falsity of her image as a goddess by nicknaming herself “Noodle.”

It’s all here, recollections of being unfairly blamed for Clark Gable’s death, her nude photo shoot, her training with Strasberg, trouble with Tony Curtis during Some Like It Hot, and rating “Bobby” as her best lover (and not just in the physical sense).

Wearing a surprisingly credible wig, a terry cloth bathrobe, low-cut negligee and crimson lipstick, Sessa recreates the visual image of the icon. But more crucially she courageously dives deeply into the troubled human being as Monroe careens from sorrow to self-pity to contemplation and through a dozen other emotions.

Garsson keeps the one-act aria moving smoothly and the tone varied enough so that the evening never seems stilted. Ardean Landuis’ lighting and David Hart’s sound enhance an ever-changing emotional environment.

Together, Sessa and Garsson admirably sidestep lazy half-measures like using the female impersonator’s crutch of an overly-breathy child voice. They even make fun of it, having Monroe repeat her famous “Happy birthday, Mr. President” line with a scornful sarcasm.

And Sessa and Garsson still manage to chill the blood every time Monroe twists open a vial, spills out a pill, throws back her head, opens her mouth and tosses in the pill with a violent motion well-oiled from uncountable repetition. And she does this over and over and over with increasing frequency.

Jones is reasonably competent, providing touching lines like, “I wanted to be an actress not an aphrodisiac.”

But in the end, we don’t get insights we hadn’t heard many times before nor feel much we haven’t felt before.

Covid Protocol: Masks required.

The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe from Boca Stage plays through Dec. 19 performing at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. No intermission. Tickets $45-$50.  Visit www.BocaStage.net or call 866-811-4111.

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