Norma Jeane, Enlightened
By Kristin O’Blessin
Joanne De Simone’s new play is an engrossing journey into key relationships that helped mold Norma Jeane into Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn’s absentee father, Bobby and Jack Kennedy and Paula Strasberg are among the most compelling conversations the audience is privy to. We meet Marilyn shortly after she has died and famed actress Eleonra Duse, played by Gloria Jung, is her guide into the next phase of existence.
As Norma Jeane/Marilyn, Holly Elizabeth O’Brien excels at showing us the young, soft side of Norma Jeane. At times we get hints of the woman who was manipulative, smart, driven and not just a victim. Bob Cencioni is heartbreaking as the father who never knew his daughter but gives her hope for a new beginning in the afterlife. In a nuanced performance by Andrew Rothkin as Jack Kennedy, we get the pragmatic, and at times, callous man who may truly care for Marilyn but would never risk his political career by having her as his wife. This is a refreshing change from the image of Kennedy as a prince of Camelot in American politics. In a fearless and lively performance as Bobby Kennedy, Michael Curcio appears as a child who taunts and torments Norma Jeane with the truth about her relationship with his older brother Jack. Paula Strasberg is the lone woman who shows up to confront Marilyn and Martha Ghio is mesmerizing. We get insight into one of the many people who profited from keeping Marilyn in the spotlight at all costs. Paula also presents us with a tormented woman who is a victim of circumstance doing
what she has to in order to survive. Joe Conway appears as Tyrone Power not as the Hollywood idol, but as the closeted man frustrated by the studio system that destroyed both him and Marilyn Monroe. Joe DiMaggio was perhaps the one man who truly did love Marilyn and Danny McDermott’s portrayal of Jumpin’ Joe is charming and adds a sweetness that seemed to so often be missing from Marilyn’s life.
Ms de Simone body of work is vast and diverse, with a book about Cats in New York currently on the shelves, this play, one about Judi Garland, and one about a runaway slave (the later opening at Manhattan Rep in September), and several feature films in the works. Seems to me that one day a play might be written about her.