By Myra Chanin. . .
I moved to Delray Beach, Florida, after 20 years of whizzing around Manhattan from theatrical performances to cabarets and comedy clubs at least four nights a week. At first, (sigh!) I felt trapped in a cultural wasteland strewn with roadshow companies staging aging musicals or revivals, or wannabees performing the songs others wrote and sang much better, long, long ago. Where, I wondered, would I find daring little theater companies like the ones in Tribeca I loved and raved about by mouth and online in print? And then I stumbled onto BocaStage, a company founded in 2014 as Primal Forces, whose artistic director, Keith Garsson, doted on new and topical works to attract sophisticated theater goers looking for alternatives of revivals and musicals… namely me.
The first Garsson/Bocastage production I attended was Andy and the Orphans. As the leading man, a youth with Downs Syndrome, it starred Coral Springs resident Edward Barbanell, who was born with Downs syndrome, and had studied acting at several local theaters including the Opus Theater, the Youth Theater and the Coconut Creek Recreation Center. His performance was so real and moving that I put my money where my mouth was, whipped out my Visa and acquired a season subscription.
Their next offering, A Funny Thing happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, was equally intriguing, a bizarre comedy penned by the daughter of the iconic cartoonist Jules Feiffer, which I’d missed when it played New York. It was also beautifully performed.
Then along came Covid ARGH!!!!! which produced dark clouds for theatergoers but a silver lining for BocaStage vis a vis a Shuttered Venue Grant which saw them through the pandemic and allowed them to install much more comfortable seating, add a curtain across the long, skinny stage and improve the lighting and stage effects at the storefront Del Sol Theater where the company performs,
Their current attraction, The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe by Elton Townend Jones, is a one-woman explosion with Leah Sessa, a three-time Carbonell winner, giving a mind-blowing 90-minute performance of a role with, per my guest, “so many words.” Leah, a singer/actress with acknowledged acting and singing talent, is a West Palm native who skips from light comedy to heavy drama. Her mother, also a singer, endowed Leah with talent and heart. Now a force in local theater, in this one-woman show, Leah portrays two women: Norma Jean Baker, who was abused and used by many, until she was glitzied up in the veneer of the world’s sexist woman and became known as Marilyn Monroe. As Marilyn she married the most admired player in baseball, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, the most respected playwright in the US, Arthur Miller, and attracted the eye of POTUS Jack Kennedy, and his skinny but brilliant brother, the AG. All of her lovers wanted Marilyn Monroe but ended up with the needy and abused Norma Jean Baker whose confidence was barely skin deep.
The curtain opens on a bedroom that Blanche DuBois would love. On the classic wrought iron bed, a blonde in a stained white belted terry cloth bathrobe, its pocket stuffed with pill bottles, rolls around. Her bleached blond wig is styled into longish bob, dry and messy as flossed cotton candy. She’s been trying to get hold of Bobby Kennedy, who she was passed on to when Jack’s men got annoyed with her calling the White House at all hours of the night.
She’s unkempt, looks nothing like her screen persona. Is she dead? Only passed out. The phone rings, she picks it up and says, “Bobby?” and hears her own voice singing “I want to be loved by you.” How did anyone get her number? She wonders whether she should call Pete? Pete. Last name Lawford, who married the Kennedy sister who introduced “Noodle” to the President, which did not sit well with his other bedmate, Jackie, the most admired woman alive at that time.
And Marilyn begins to run barefoot and backwards through her life, one man at a time, recalling how she was acquired, used and dumped by each one of them.
I cannot get this play out of my mind, because of its contrast between reality and illusion. Norma Jean is reality, destructive to her core. And Marilyn Monroe is the stuff that dreams are made of, and we all know how quickly they disappear. This production is an act of love between Leah Sessa and director Keith Garrson that you don’t want to miss.
For tickets for the last weekend of performances, Friday night 12/17 at 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday 12/18-19 matiness at 2 pm and evening performances at 8 pm. Performed at The Sol Theatre, 3333 N Federal Highway, Boca Raton FL 33431. For tickets call (561) 447-8829.
Photos by Amy Pasquantonio