Nude – Beneath the Beauty Spot is a stripped-down exploration of the idea of Marilyn Monroe.
It seems there are so many imitations of Marilyn Monroe in the world of pop culture – countless plays, movies, TV shows – offering caricatured impersonations of the great, complex, star. What sets Nude apart, though, is that it is not an impersonation, but a gradual transformation from actress to icon. The show incorporates interpretations of some of Marilyn’s most well-known songs, layering new and existing meanings to shed more light on the inner workings of a Hollywood icon.
Written and directed by Jayde Kirchert, and starring Carina Waye, this Cabaret-style one woman show offers an involved, intelligent exploration of the very idea of Marilyn Monroe as a construct, as a performance, and as a woman. It offers no solid conclusions, but if it were to come to a definite, truthful answer regarding the woman behind the image, it would be the first to be able to do so. The show cleverly pronounces that this notion is impossible – that there is no way of knowing which of the many, layered stories are true. Not even for the woman living them. A very exercise in postmodernism, Kirchert states in the program “indeed, is there ever just one [story] for any of us?”
Waye’s performance is dazzling. She greeted every audience member as they walk to their seats, engaging in casual banter, before the performance informally began. This and her warmup guessing games were a great way to get the audience, and herself, comfortable for what we were to embark upon. Waye radiated intangible warmth from the very first moment, which is so important when portraying Marilyn Monroe. Men loved Marilyn, but women did, too, for her warmth and vulnerability. Waye descended further and further into dangerous vulnerability, engaging the audience’s protective instincts towards Marilyn, to the point where it almost felt like male gaze-y voyeurism to even look at the exposed, defenceless creature she had become by the dramatic climax. It is a genuinely affecting piece, beautifully performed by Waye, her dedication to the character and to the piece obvious. Her vocals were stunning in every song; she was both a joy to listen to and heartbreaking to watch.
The writing by Kirchert is excellent, intelligent, engaging, fluid, almost academically philosophical prose. However one of the most touching, and meaningful, moments was at the beginning of the second act, when Marilyn/Waye was practicing poses in the dim light of a lamp, to the gentle piano trills of music director Trevor Jones. Looking at an old magazine, she gently, but with some tension and great control, slowly forms into different glamour poses, tweaking them subtly, entranced. We see the various panels of her face and arms in various stages of shadow and warm, gentle light, as she moves and pauses and readjusts. She is calm, but there is a pain in her eyes. Here we see the hard work and dedication, and sleepless nights, that it took to construct the performance of Marilyn Monroe: the movie star. Almost out of time, this intimate moment is truly heartbreaking, like witnessing a little girl trying on her mother’s clothes – a mother she never truly had access to.
Anyone who knows their Marilyn history will pick up on the many subtle references to events and people in her life that are not outwardly, explicitly stated, but more mysteriously alluded to in Nude. Those unfamiliar with these niche references will not fully understand these lines, however they will still be intrigued by these fleeting comments. Just like Marilyn herself, Nude offers no answers to the audience’s questions, and nor should it. Further, the inclusion of some quotes by the woman herself adds an extra touch of authenticity to the trained eye. However, on occasion Nude’s Marilyn comes across as a bit too ditzy. Some Marilyn fans may be a tad frustrated by these moments.
By the end of the evening, Waye’s transformation into Marilyn Monroe was uncanny. Beginning with a bare face, she gradually applied makeup and took on the graceful movements and expressions of Marilyn. In her last song, particularly in her three-quarter profile, her resemblance to the icon was astounding, almost unrecognisable from the friendly Australian girl who greeted us all upon entry into the space. The line between performer and character suitably blurred, almost as if a magic trick had been carried out in front of our very eyes, one could have sworn it was the real deal up on stage.
Marilyn was a woman so extensively psychoanalysed, so picked apart during her lifetime and beyond, that it is refreshing to see her, in a way, speaking for herself. This is not an exploitation of the star’s image, but a labour of love for the woman, laced with affection and passion and genuine curiosity towards her. It is clearly the product of much research and respect for Monroe, and a deep fascination for what it means to be constructed, viewed, consumed, and discarded, when all she ever wanted was love.
Nude – Beneath the Beauty Spot is currently playing at the Alex Theatre, St Kilda.
For more information and tickets: http://www.alextheatrestk.com/