by Beatrice Williams-Rude
Marlene is a portrait of Marlene Dietrich that is compelling, informative, enlightening and altogether entertaining.
Marlene is embodied by Cindy Marinangel, who is alone onstage for the entire 80 minutes of the work, yet we never tire of her. The play, written by Willard Manus, is brilliantly conceived and splendidly executed. It incorporates actual quotes that serve as laugh lines even as they illuminate.
Set in a hotel room in Berlin in 1960 where Marlene has returned to do a concert—the most effective set was designed by director Judith Rose and Marlene herself, Cindy Marinangel—Marlene’s life plays out in the form of an interview, but we never see the interviewer. We know from Marlene that she’s 25, 26, or 27 and American.
There are phone calls, people at the door we don’t see, but one we hear as he shouts “traitor” at the famously anti-Nazi Marlene. There are voiceovers that are most effective, particularly that of General Patton. We learn about her lovers of both sexes and friends, including Ernest Hemingway and Jean Gabin. (A fierce anti-Nazi but proud German, Marlene became a Francophile and spent her last years in Paris. She was awarded Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and Belgium dubbed her a Knight of the Order of Leopold. She also received the US Medal of Freedom.)
Her career is traced from The Blue Angel, her breakthrough film (she played Lola Lola), which took her from Berlin to Hollywood, to her movies and emergence as a glamour queen to becoming a unique personality. Her comedic talent first came to the fore in 1939 in Destry Rides Again (hilariously spoofed in Blazing Saddles with the unlikely Madeleine Kahn playing Marlene).
Much attention is paid, rightly, to Marlene’s European tours entertaining the Allied troops during WWII. When asked if she’d had an affair with Eisenhower she says no, he wasn’t at the front. Marlene didn’t perform for the troops from the safety of US soil, or even from behind the lines. That her courage and the strength of her convictions led to the front lines was made clear with the exchange with General Patton, who, noting a possible breakthrough of Axis troops, gave her a gun, which was much in evidence throughout the play.
Marlene Dietrich is inarguably one of the most fascinating women of the Twentieth Century: glamorous, elegant, strong, outspoken, and uniquely herself, one of a kind. She had a mordant sense of humor; some of her acerbic witticisms are worthy of George Bernard Shaw And Cindy Marinangel captures her essence.
The deft, intelligent direction is by Judith Rose.
The indispensable pianist is Russell Daisey.
The voice-overs are done by Alan August, Glenda Morgan Brown and David Glover. Light and sound design by Judith Rose.
The accent coach was Glenda Morgan Brown and she and the performer got it exactly right. Where a bit more work is needed is in some of the songs, particularly “Illusion.”
Marlene was seen in a nigh on perfect venue, the Hudson Guild Theater (441 West Twenty-Sixth Street, between Ninth and Tenth Aves. in Manhattan.) where the sight lines are unimpeded, the acoustics splendid, the hand rails easily accessible, the seats fixed and solid.
Marlene is part of the New York Theater Festival’s Winterfest, where it had three performances. The festival, now in progress, runs through March 4.
While Winterfest provides a showcase, it is also a contest, in which I believe Marlene will fare well. In any event, I expect that Marlene will keep popping up as long as Cindy Marinangel chooses to do it.