30 June 2012

Last Night, I Dialed 'M' For Marlene

Last night, I dialed 'M' for Marlene. There was a bit of static, but our operator-cum-playwright/director/stagehand Gary LeGault made the connection. In Dial 'M' for Marlene, the story begins at Marilyn Monroe's January 7, 1955 press conference where she announces the launch of Marilyn Monroe Productions with her business partner, Milton H. Greene. Never one to miss a publicity opportunity, Marlene Dietrich attends the event. Herein lies my first and only quibble. Why wasn't there a moment when Monroe, Greene, and Dietrich pose together, in reference to this photograph? Oh, one more gripe, which would come later. A dusty mirror initially assaulted my senses because Dietrich would have never tolerated such filth in her apartment. Because this play later kicks open the door to the spirit world, Dietrich's Prussian geist undoubtedly possessed LeGault, who Windexed (Or Fabuloso-ed? Who knows what's available at this end of Hollywood?) the soiled looking glass.

Otherwise, this play is rife with fun Dietrich (and Monroe, which doesn't interest me much here) trivia. Dietrich (Victoria Valentino) invites Monroe (Ariane Bellamar) and Greene (Jeremy Ebenstein) to her apartment at 993 Park Avenue (by the way, I racked my brain trying to remember whether Dietrich lived at this address during the first half of the '50s and am now inclined to believe that she actually lived at 410 Park Avenue at this time, which is why your knowledge is integral in augmenting and correcting the markers in the now-dormant Mapping Marlene Dietrich project), name-drops Ernest Hemingway and Noel Coward, and pretends to be a Spanish maid when she answers her phone, which happens to rest upon a trunk stickered with depictions of Cap d'Antibes and Le Grand Hotel, possibly inadvertent nods to Dietrich and Greta Garbo respectively. Speaking of trunks, Dietrich and Monroe chit-chat about the circus, in reference to Dietrich's ringmaster stint (on March 31, 1954 and also back in 1952) and Monroe's later elephant ride. Before I forget Garbo, I should add that there are a few jokes at her expense, which always wins my applause. I wish I could recall all of them, but I can only cite one at the moment--about Garbo in a floppy hat and a trench coat, shopping at a flea market and stalking poor Monroe.

So what about the performances? Well, it's nearly impossible to play Dietrich without her souffle foundation and skin-firming braids, but Valentino began to find Dietrich's trademark accent after the first scene. With some false lashes glued to the outer edges of her eyelids, she'd also have Dietrich's bedroom eyes. Maybe Bellamar could snip hers in half and share? As for Bellamar, she cooed her lines as sultrily as Monroe would have, and her Louboutins were a contemporary touch that I'm sure Monroe would sport if she were among today's stars. Given that Valentino and Bellamar had replaced the previous lead actresses with short notice, I was impressed by their efforts, although these beautiful women ought to give their scenes with a Sapphic touch a firm squeeze. Regardless, these two played their parts to meta-theatrical perfection. When Dietrich hands the torch--or, in this case, the confetti horn--to Monroe, I couldn't help but see the act transpiring between the actresses themselves, a 1963 Playboy Playmate graciously giving her blessing to a 21st-century Playboy Bunny.

The supporting cast gave Peter Sellars a run for his money by taking on multiple roles and accents, but my favorites were Bruce Culpepper, who (naturally?) evoked Dr. Phil in his role as 1st Psychologist, and Peter Cluff, whose lisping 2nd Psychologist may have been a reference that flew over my head. Dietrich fans will also chuckle upon seeing Sophie Brabenec's Mawia Wiva interpretation and her Gertrude Lawrence/Gertrude Stein possession at Dietrich's seance, where spaghetti--not spaetzle--is served. Bill Riva would have felt at home!

If I can, I'll gladly redial Dial 'M' for Marlene. As I've told you before, visit its Facebook page for more information and see it before it ends its run on July 15.


  1. Hi Joseph hope you are well. I love your review. I wish I lived near so I could see it. They're my two favorite actresses. I wonder what Maria think....

    1. This play needs a lot of fine-tuning, but you'd get all the references and laugh at them. The Maria character cracked me up because she was a stereotypical "Helga" type, which Maria isn't/wasn't at all. Because most people probably don't know who Maria is, this comical Germanic caricature may be how audiences would envision her.

  2. Dear Mr. Andrews:

    Owing to "artistic differences," Ms. Valentino has left the show, causing its producer to close the play for one week, while a slightly younger "actress" stepped into the title role, just in time for its reopening on Thursday, July 12th. Further distress among the cast, casused the departure of Sophie Brabenec and Bruce Culpepper, who've been replaced by Ann E. Chatterton and ABC's Barry Pettitt. But the show must go on.

    I invite you and your friend, Armand, to return for the play's closing weekend. I think that you'll be surprised to see what a difference a week of "revamping" (and I use the term loosely) can do. I might tell you that the new "Marlene" is especially partial to the name, "Armand." A similar character stuck by her till the bitter end in another show, when she was suffering from a very bad cough.

    This new "actress," has the same intitials as the first two of an Irish playwright, who wrote Pygmalion. You'll notice a remarkable transformation from guttersnipe to lady in this production as "Marlene" suits up and gets into gear.

    Bring you left-over fruits and vegetables. Marlene could stumble and break a femur, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

    1. Oh, Gussie, I knew you were born for the role! Revamp away! Just make sure the only thing you're using loosely are terms. I'll make every effort to be there this weekend.