Good-bye Miss Monroe, written and directed by Liam de Burca, was a unique theatrical experience.
As the audience entered the intimate theatre of The Loft at Chapel off Chapel, they were greeted with the sight of a nearly naked Matt Young, as Hollywood Dance Director (apparently he hated the term Choreographer) Jack Cole, passed out on the stage. Wearing only a pair of old fashioned boxer briefs, Young was collapsed amidst a scene set to describe the after effects of a wild night in 1960’s Hollywood. The set included a range of authentic looking 1960’s furniture and accessories, such as an armchair, dressing screen, wireless radio, desk, typewriter, turntable, with LP’s scattered on the floor, along with a selection of alcohol bottles and soda siphons. The set, which remained static for the entire show, accurately set the scene for 1962.
As the audience entered, Young remained motionless on the evenly lit stage, and from a creative viewpoint, I was quite surprised the Director chose to go briefly to a full blackout once the doors were closed and the play began. As the design of The Loft requires the audience to enter across the stage, the initial lighting was probably necessary to allow safe navigation for the audience around the empty bottles and discarded records.
As Cole wakes up, clearly ‘under the weather’ from the night before, we find out that the play is set just days after the death of Cole’s ‘Baby Doll’, Marilyn Monroe. Young’s portrayal of Jack Cole is intense. While clearly suffering the after effects of a hard night, as Cole wakes up and remembers his situation, he becomes alternatively manic and morose as he mourns his loss and tries frantically to plan a wake for Monroe. The true story, his reminiscing about the Hollywood legends that he has worked with, especially Marilyn Monroe, unfolds as he telephones each of his former muses and asks them to attend the wake. In turn we meet Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, Martha Graham, Gwen Verdon, Jane Russell, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. The audience also learns of his own childhood, dance training and experiences in Hollywood, primarily as Miss Monroe’s treasured advisor on every movie set.
Perhaps after reading that description, it is hard to imagine that this is a 2 person play. Young is alone on stage for much of the show, delivering an extensive series of monologues filled with passion and conviction. He is extremely convincing in the role of Cole, and other than a few stumbles over the hectic pace of the dialogue, which can be forgiven as part of Cole’s own passionate personality, holds the audience’s attention easily. The anecdotes he shares are intimate and interesting, about the legends of Hollywood, and I found myself wondering how much was fact, and how much artistic license. It felt like a very personal insight into the lives of these idols of the ‘Golden Age’ of the silver screen.
While Young’s convincing portrayal of Cole was consistent and entertaining, the performance by Anna Burgess, as each of the female characters, was amazing. Some of the initial characters did come across as bordering on caricature, but in some ways, that is how figures like Marilyn Monroe portrayed themselves. Perhaps Burgess modeled her interpretations on specific roles played each of the woman, where particular characteristics were played upon, or perhaps she merely exaggerated certain mannerisms and speech patterns to clearly identify and delineate each character. Whatever the justifications behind the specific construction of each role, Burgess’ immersion in each character was absolute. From the moment she appeared from the wings until she glided, strutted or staggered her way off stage, every aspect of her person was involved in the role. For each of the 7 roles, Burgess took on a distinctly different carriage of her body, walk, gestures, voice, mannerisms, looks – even facial expressions. For example, she perfectly captured Monroe’s expression of doe-eyed innocence. Burgess is clearly somewhat of a chameleon – with a change of costume and wig, Burgess became a new woman. Seamstresses Merideth Clements and Louise Delour, Wig Designer Elia Massimini and Wig Dresser Linda Cowell did an excellent job to support the illusion. The costumes were beautiful, and perfectly suited for each character. Some (perhaps all?) were specific reproductions of well known costumes and the wide range of elaborate wigs put the finishing touches on a series of convincing characters.
There are some brief moments of song, as Cole remembers working on particular movies with Miss Monroe, and 3 of his most well-known dances are portrayed very effectively, especially for such a small space. While the overall tone of the show is melancholy, there are moments of humour – a classic one liner occurring in the midst of the recreation of a dance between Jack and Gwen to a Benny Goodman hit, delighted the audience. For the most part the lighting was uncomplicated – the only dramatic changes occurred to suit the feel of the original dance numbers, such as the Egyptian dance from ‘David and Bathsheba’. Sound was used effectively to enhance the time period, with Jack Cole frequently turning the wireless on to hear Marilyn singing on every station (only once did the ‘wireless’ continue to play after he had apparently switched it off), or playing his Jazz LP’s.
Each aspect of this show combines to immerse the audience in the life of Jack Cole, and the amazing women who were his muses, and recreate the heady time of Hollywood in the 1960’s. The audience connects with Jack and feels his pain, and has the opportunity to glimpse the lives of a series of Hollywood legends. Throughout the show there was also an undercurrent focusing on Cole’s appreciation for what he called the ‘blood, sweat and tears dancers’, for whom he clearly had a great deal of respect, which resonated with me, but even more so for my companion, who was a dancer.
‘Good-bye Miss Monroe’ was a thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre, as well as a memorial for an icon of Hollywood dance, and the women who inspired him. Particularly if you are a fan of movies from the 1940-60’s, visit The Loft for a night of nostalgia and revelations.