Live fast. Die young. Leave a good-looking corpse. Become an icon. From Tutankhamen to Kurt Cobain this has been a pretty standard formula for immortality. Unfortunately, the price for this method of eternity seems to include never ending speculation on every detail of the individual's life. One of the most profiled icons has to be the late, great Marilyn Monroe, who is currently being resurrected at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre in the show Miss Golden Dreams.
Miss Golden Dreams takes its name from the title of a famous nude calendar portrait Marilyn posed for in the late 1940s when she was a struggling starlet. Distilled from Joyce Carol Oates' 738 page novel on Marilyn, Blonde (which also provided the basis of a recent CBS miniseries), Miss Golden Dreams has been turned into a 90-minute one-act play exploring the mythos of Marilyn. In both Blonde and Miss Golden Dreams, Oates portrays Norma Jeane as a scared, small girl who created the "Marilyn Monroe" persona for the dual purposes of providing escape and power. While an interesting device, it is just that: a construct that plays like a bad TV movie on split personalities. The play, in fact, is chock full of devices and constructs that never fully gel into a satisfying whole.
The show is by turns a memory play and a Brechtian exercise with a large dash of tabloid journalism thrown in for good measure. It starts with Norma Jeane (deftly played by Carolyn Baeumler) informing us of her demise, which distances us from what we are about to witness. Thus, when Norma/Marilyn writhes nude on the crimson sheet for her titular photo shoot, (all the while spouting near performance-art sex talk ala Karen Finley), we don't see her as a person, but rather as a two dimensional representation like her photo. This sense of unreality is furthered by having the two men in the play (Frank Corrado and Peter Crook, who play some of the myriad of men who take turns making and destroying Marilyn) lack real names or identities. Instead of being referred to by the names anyone with a passing familiarity to Marilyn's life would recognize, such as Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, Peter Lawford or JFK, they are simply labeled as The Ex-Athlete, The Author, The Pimp, The President (probably to avoid lawsuits from the actual persons or their estates). When coupled with their constant asides to the audience, this reduces them to complete caricatures, oftentimes loathsome ones at that, with no traces of humanity or compassion, much less motivations, for any of their actions.
Marilyn herself is treated little better and is portrayed as a neurotic, insecure child constantly in need of a father figure, instead of the shrewd, intelligent, talented, ambitious woman she would have to have been to survive in Hollywood. By portraying her as a constant, often times whiny, victim the author and the show have reduced Marilyn to a two dimensional icon, much in the same manner as the slimy photographer who made a pretty penny off her initial photo spread. The show has no new insights, and despite strong performances from all three actors, never rises from the morass of tabloid sleaziness.
Miss Golden Dreams runs at ACT through August 26th. For more information visit www.acttheatre.org