Deconstructing Monroe

Making Marilyn aspires to grand heights. Ken Cameron's play focuses on the legendary Monroe, adding into the mix a few obvious factoids about her troubled life, such as her addiction to pills and alcohol and her dependency on men. The result is a bizarre psychodrama, but one that benefits greatly from the seductive star power of Ashlie Atkinson. As the title character, Atkinson takes a disjointed, mediocre play and turns it into a captivating tour de force. The year is 1953, and Marilyn has come to the small town of Banff, Canada, to shoot her new film, The River of No Return. While filming the movie, the lonely star encounters a young teenager named Scout (Patrick Costello), who lives in a rundown house with his mother, also played by the beguiling Atkinson. The mother spends her days drinking and her evenings waiting for a husband who will never return. Her nights are spent entertaining the men of Banff. Although she tries to provide a stable environment for Scout, her inability to accept reality, coupled with her drinking and prostitution, creates a corrupted home life that the troubled youth longs to escape.

When Marilyn comes to town, Scout's dreams of a different life begin to take form. Their chance encounter blossoms into a tender friendship that eventually evolves into an intense sexual relationship, the ramifications of which prove tragic for both. Flash-forward to 1962, shortly after Marilyn's death, and Scout is speeding down a California highway. When an overzealous policeman (Robin Mervin) pulls him over, Scout's history with Marilyn, and his mental stability, begins to unravel in disturbing detail.

Cameron has intriguing ideas brimming with promise, but they ultimately fizzle in the execution. His depiction of Monroe as a boozy, pill-popping prostitute is particularly troublesome and narrow. The constant time jumping among three decades proves confusing and ultimately hampers the story. A sense of vagueness prevails throughout, with reality and fiction blurring to the point of distraction.

Robin A. Paterson's direction effectively creates a nostalgic aura that evokes a 50's movie. His use of movable screens to denote time and scene changes helps move the story forward and alleviates the confusion created by Cameron's script. Paterson also guides his cast of five to engaging and lively performances.

As Scout's tough-talking, whiskey-swilling mother, Atkinson is all swagger and attitude. Her Marilyn, meanwhile, charms and delights, making the play come alive with each movement and word. In an astounding marriage of technique and natural talent, Atkinson seamlessly transforms herself from one character to the next and back, often within seconds. She modulates her voice, lowering the register for Scout's mother and raising it to bring Marilyn's breathy whisper to vivid life. But Atkinson's most accomplished feat is her ability to physically transform herself; her entire body changes so convincingly, it is like watching two completely different actresses at work.

Patrick Costello initially impresses as the troubled Scout. He convincingly plays the character's many torments, and his flirtatious moments with Atkinson are appropriately awkward and touching. But his portrayal is so overly nuanced that its shine eventually turns into a glare: his attempts at depth give way to a series of predictable psychotic ticks and manic ramblings that detract from the story and ultimately appear false. In the end, it seems more like a bag of tricks, unlike Atkinson's organic performance.

Robin Mervin scores laughs as the self-important cop. He takes an incidental role and finds comedy in the banal, turning in a hilarious performance. Devin Scott and Reyna De Courcy lend credible support in a series of minor roles.

While Making Marilyn ultimately buckles under the pressure of its weak narrative, the Bridge Theater Company's production thrives thanks to the exceptional Ashlie Atkinson's considerable gifts. Ultimately, Cameron's new play makes for an intriguing, if laborious, night of entertainment.

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