5 Takeaways from MM, a Play about Marilyn Monroe and Frankenstein

The play explores what it means to be a monster in Hollywood.

On Friday, I watched the very first performance of M M at Theater 82 in Cranston. My first reaction upon reading the concept behind the play was confusion. It is a play starring Marilyn Monroe and Frankenstein’s monster. In what world would a play like that make sense? Make no mistake, MM is prepared for that question and has its answer ready. She is the icon of beauty; he is the icon of monstrosity. They are opposing sides of the same coin, tumbling end over end through the history of Hollywood.

M M was written by North Smithfield resident and winner of Rhode Island State Council of the Arts Award, Barbara Schweitzer. While not a perfect play, it has a complex and nuanced perspective on stardom. It launches an armada of questions and curiosities that leave the viewer contemplating the nature of fame and its pressures on those who strive for and achieve it.

Taking place entirely inside Marilyn’s mind as she dies, the play is a retelling of her life as if she were creating a film version of it. She has a small company of actors who change parts throughout.  She chooses Frankenstein’s monster as her leading man, dubbing him Frankie Jr. What follows is a meditation on icons and how we remember them. M M runs from May 12–27 at Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe Square, Cranston. Tickets are $20 for general admission, and $15 for seniors and students. To purchase tickets, visit: artists-exchange.org/events.html

Here are my takeaways:

  1. Derek Corriveau’s Frankie Jr. was great.

Frankie Jr. is the reluctant actor cast as the villain in Monroe’s life story. He is pressed into service because of his star power as the most iconic of monsters. Throughout the play, Corriveau gives a performance that is faithful to the raging, thoughtful character from Mary Shelley’s novel. Each role given to him by Marilyn is a proving ground for Frankie’s growing acting skill. And then comes this moment when Frankie Jr. plays the role of playwright Arthur Miller, Monroe’s third husband. Here Corriveau plays Frankie/Miller as a blur that’s impossible to distinguish where Frankie’s portrayal begins and ends. It’s as if Frankenstein’s monster is the natural choice to act as Arthur Miller. It was my favorite part of the play.

  1. Meg Sullivan’s Marilyn Monroe was spot on.

Her performance was pure Norma Jean. She exudes confidence and intelligence. She projects the sexuality that Monroe spent a career cultivating, and also is wistful of that projection. She possesses a depth of sadness in her understanding that it is her body that gives her power rather than intelligence or talent. When this resigned sorrow comes through in one of the beautifully written exchanges with Frankie Jr., the entire relationship between them becomes so real.

  1. The “Is that true factor?”

I learned so much about Marilyn Monroe. One of the joys of this play is the sheer knowledge of the starlet that was built into the show by Schweitzer. The little tidbits that are revealed about her life are intriguing. Did she really have an IQ of 166? Did she really have lifelines shaped like her initials? The research and understanding of the minutia of Monroe’s life is stellar. It illustrated what it is about her that keeps her in the public consciousness. Another interesting fact is that the role of Eunice Murray, the housekeeper who discovered Marilyn’s body, is being played by Eunice’s great niece Clare Blackmer, who is from Cranston.

  1. The surreal issues.

Structurally, because this play takes place in the mind of a dying woman recreating her life via a fantasy about filming a movie, it makes sense that this play is going to mess around with our expectations a bit. Surrealism is to be expected. The players switching roles, I get. The frequent costume changes are fine. Even teaching Frankie Jr. to act is a nice touch. However, there are several moments in the play that push the boundaries a bit too far. For example, Albert Einstein roller-skates in and out of the play at various moments. Played by Nicole Maynard, Einstein is fun and charming, but unnecessary to the plot of the play. It is a distraction from the central point on what it is to be an icon, and it feels like a waste of a perfectly good Einstein.

  1. Marilyn and Frankie Jr. are a great pair.

When the play focuses on Marilyn’s monsters, it grabs you completely. Frankie and Marilyn have this ongoing back and forth relationship that is tender and believable. They fill a need for each other. For Frankie, Marilyn is the parental figure denied him by his creator who abandoned him. For Marilyn, Frankie is the sole reliable person throughout her entire life. They lean on each other, and it is when they are trying to work through a scene, to redo one of Marilyn’s memories, that the play makes you forget all about where you are.

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